In recent years many families have found it necessary to forgo the kinds of vacations they might have enjoyed in the past, where everybody flies to a destination and stays in a resort hotel for several days.
They may even have had to cut back on everyday pleasures such as eating out or going to a movie every weekend. After all, those activities can easily set a family of four back $50-$100, depending on how much merry is actually made.
But in just about any community in America -- and especially in Columbia -- there is a wealth of enjoyment to be had in a beautiful, peaceful, well-tended cemetery or memorial garden.
Best of all, it's free.
If you are one of those who consider cemeteries to be creepy or morbid places, reconsider. On a lovely day few places are more entertaining. If you like nature, art, history, genealogy, or any combination of the above, you will feel energized in a cemetery.
Parents with school-age children will find ample opportunity to engage their kids in discussions about nearly every subject they'll study over the course of a school year.
With a little effort you'll be able to incorporate the disciplines of math, science, geography, topography, botany, genealogy, physical fitness, American history, religion, current events, reading, poetry, literature, photography, local customs, and art.
And it won't feel like an assignment! The experience can be fun and enlightening for everyone.
Naturally when one organizes a trip to a cemetery, a few things must be thought of in advance. For one thing, the weather may be a hindrance to graving.
Everyone longs for those ideal days of temperatures in the seventies and low humidity. And in South Carolina, there are plenty of those from November through April.
In extreme summer conditions, however, you may want to wait for a cooler day or a day with less humidity. If the heat doesn't bother you so much but is still a factor, simply visit the cemetery a bit earlier -- or later -- in the day.
Also, if you plan to stay awhile, look for cemeteries with lots of trees to provide shade. Many cemeteries are full of benches, so there will be somewhere to sit when you need a rest.
A trip to a cemetery can be easily combined with an exercise regimen. Leave your dog at home, set your phone to vibrate, and keep your dress respectful, but feel free to bring your water bottle.
Several larger cemeteries in Columbia are ideal for walking. They include Elmwood, Greenlawn and Woodridge Cemeteries, and Fort Jackson National Cemetery. As long as they observe cemetery etiquette and rules, visitors are welcome to spend hours wandering amongst the tombs.
Look before you leap
If you plan to take your kids and make an educational trip out of it, before you set out for the cemetery do a little online research.
On the huge Web site Find A Grave, for example, within moments you can learn about famous graves in any given cemetery. The kids will enjoy locating the grave and once they have, you can teach them a few things about the person buried there.
Another interesting thing for kids to do is to search for surnames they recognize. This can allow them to recognize the extent to which they and their friends and acquaintances are knit into a community.
Do the math
Encourage your children to calculate the ages of the deceased based on the dates listed on the tombstones. Unless they have had firsthand experience with the death of a child or a very young person, most children believe only the elderly pass away. This can be an excellent opportunity to teach your kids about the brevity of life.
Examine the artistry
Cemeteries are full of fabulous sculptures and artwork. Many of the pieces are signed. In fact, cemeteries are open-air museums! Encourage your children to concentrate on the talent, vision, and work required to create cemetery art.
Ponder the poetry
Epitaphs and grave sayings are as diverse and intimate as the mind can imagine. If all you and your kids do in a cemetery is read, you'll learn a great deal and come away with a larger appreciation of the English language.
Take it with you
If the cemetery allows it, help your children to do a rubbing. Later, frame the paper and hang it on the wall at home as a memento of your outing.
Call the roll
If you live in an area where many of your ancestors lived and died, start a family tree project. Research family graves and take your children to visit them.
Note the symbolic
Cemeteries are full of symbolism. Upon entering a cemetery, announce to the kids that you are going to look for one or two types of monuments or markers. For example, smaller graves with lambs or little angels atop the stone depict resting places of children.
Snap a picture
Allow your kids to use the family camera or buy them an inexpensive one of their own. Teach them about composition and turn them loose to photograph what interests them in the cemetery. Consider allowing them to set up a free blog where they can exhibit their cemetery (and other) photography.
Once you've explored local cemeteries, plan a day trip to other famous cemeteries such as Springwood in Greenville, Oakland in Atlanta, or Bonaventure in Savannah. You'll see a bit of countryside, spend time together as a family, enjoy some beautiful nature, and feel more alive.
Jennifer Weber is the owner of Angel Funeral Photography. When she's not preoccupied with taking pictures in cemeteries, she blogs relentlessly at I'm Having A Thought Here and A Route of Evanescence. She is a frequent contributor to Find A Grave, where she is known as AngelSeeker.