About 8 years ago, when I was first living in this area and single, I spent a Shabbat with an Orthodox family in Northern Virginia. I had met them at a YPK break fast they were hosting at their home and they invited me to come for the Shabbat dinner during Sukkot the following week.
I didn't stay over night despite being invited, so I didn't get the full shomer shabbos experience of not driving, but I did join them for dinner in the Sukkah and returned the following morning for services and Sukkah-hopping among their neighbors.
It was a truly miraculous Shabbat. I had only recently learned of the concept of Shabbat as an island of time, but I completely got it by the time we did Havdalah that Saturday night. I remember being shocked that I still had another day left to my weekend - not because the day had dragged and felt long, but because time seemed to have slowed down to a relaxing pace I had never experienced before.
I never forgot that Shabbat and have always felt I would like to be Shomer Shabbos. We belong to a Conservative Shul that is technically within walking distance of our home, but our friends are spread out, so to give up driving would mean giving up most socializing on Shabbat. Besides which, I had never been able to organize my life enough to be prepared by Friday afternoon to have the correct lights on and off, have all shopping done, etc.
My husband's minhag has always been to not write or do anything creative, but had no problem spending money. I always found that too confusing to commit to, so what tended to happen was we'd go shopping on Saturday afternoon and I'd have to sign the credit card slip because he wasn't writing.
For years it has gone on like this. Some Shabbats made me feel sad I'm not more observant, while others just felt like an intrusion - I had things to get done. We always have Friday night dinner together but Saturday afternoon is all over the place. The one thing we can count on is that our son will spend the whole day asking when he can watch TV.
Recently, however, I've taken a different attitude. After spending a couple of lovely leisurely Shabbat lunches with friends I decided that instead of fretting over our level of observance I would start taking some small steps toward cultivating that island of time I once experienced.
So for that last 2 Shabbats we have not driven anywhere except to Shul (I actually didn't go to services because I've been sick for several weeks, so H. has been letting me sleep in) and we did not do any shopping. We spent the day playing games with E., and both weeks we have taken him outside to check if there are three stars in the sky and then done Havdalah.
I can't say I'm there yet, but it has been really nice. The day still drags because of constantly needed to figure out what we will do next with our son and of course my best creative ideas come when I can't work on them. But I end Shabbat now feeling good about how we spent it and adding Havdalah has definitely helped with feeling the separation between Shabbat and the rest of the weekend (just like it's supposed to!).
The next step will be to make sure we have guests (and playmates for E.) for Saturday lunch or an invitation to someone else's home. Of course that requires more organization, which I can guarantee will be a topic of many future posts.