Maybe you've always wanted to float alongside a sea turtle. Or to learn how to paint a landscape. Or tickle the ivories. Whether it's scuba diving or taking piano lessons, learning a new skill is a great gift for yourself or others.
There are all sorts of things you can learn and give a gift certificate. While you can buy gift certificates for just about anything, why not experiment with something that might become a new pursuit or creative outlet that opens up a whole new world?
Shelley Trulson recently moved from Dallas to Tucson. She's been trying to meet new people and looks forward to trying new pursuits in the more temperate weather.
"This is the perfect time of year to start something new," said the 34-year-old massage therapist. "Back in Dallas, I did a lot of running and dancing at the clubs. I think Tucson will offer more things to do outside all year long."
Trulson's checked out notice boards on walls at local bookstores such as Bookmans and is looking into joining a running Meetup group online.
We take a look at the ins and outs of four very different hobbies and what it takes to get involved. All offer gift certificates.
Skeet and trap shooting
"We are the best-kept secret in Tucson," proclaimed Lenny Gulatta, a lifetime member and former president of Tucson Trap and Skeet Club, a nonprofit and educational organization at 7800 W. Old Ajo Highway.
Yes, skeet and trap are two different things, but both involve firing a shotgun at colorful flying targets made of pitch and limestone.
And the Tucson Trap and Skeet Club is one of the premier organizations in the nation.
The club began in 1948 on 40 donated acres at the southwest corner of East 22nd Street and South Pantano Road.
The club now owns 80 acres of land on Old Ajo Highway and is looking to add 150 more. Currently, there are 14 skeet fields, 25 trap fields, two five-stand sporting clay fields, a 5,000-square-foot clubhouse with a restaurant and 200 RV hookups.
In addition to hosting other events during the year, the club has been designated by USA Shooting - the national governing body for Olympic shooting sports - as a regional Olympic training center. Tucson will host the World Cup in 2012.
The 900-some members who make up the Tucson club are mostly men, but a fair share of women belong. To get younger people involved, a Scholastic Clay Target Program of about 70 kids ages 12 to 18 holds regular practices.
There are leagues in spring and summer, and regular competitions and events at the facility.
At 73, Gulatta has been participating in trap for 43 years. He has shot close to 175,000 registered targets in his lifetime, and he's seen people shoot until they're 80.
"I consider it kind of like golf or soccer," said Gulatta, who uses a Browning shotgun with a 30-inch barrel. He said there are members that shoot guns that cost up to $20,000.
"It's a sport. There's competition, there's practice. We do teams."
The shotgun blasts aren't nearly as loud as you'd think while wandering down the line of shooters, although eye and ear protection is required when shooting. Three to 4 million shots are fired a year at the facility.
Costs are fairly low to participate, although like anything, it quickly can add up. It's $10 to rent a shotgun and $7 a round for non-members, plus ammunition. Membership costs $75 a year or $400 a lifetime.
Shooters can practice Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays.
Gulatta said 21 coaches who are licensed by Arizona Game and Fish teach free safety lessons to shooters.
In skeet shooting, the "thrown" targets are crossing. In trap shooting, the targets are outgoing.
In sporting clays, targets are thrown in a variety of trajectories, angles, speeds, elevations and distances.
• Tucson Trap and Skeet Club: 883-6426 (www.tucsontrapandskeet.com)
We've all seen Art Instruction Schools ads that invite you to copy a sketch so the school can assess your skill.
Not surprisingly, the school is known for "finding" skill in everyone.
Though that's a copying skill and not a drawing skill, Lynn Fleischman, executive director of The Drawing Studio Inc., said the school's not that far off.
"Everyone's got it," she said. "We have spent a lifetime sort of repressing it or stomping it out or just not paying attention to it."
So instead of just thinking, "I could do that" when viewing an abstract modern painting, maybe it's time to put your skills to the test.
That's what Pat Frederick, a retired horse veterinarian and now working painter and sculptor, finally did.
"All my life I've wanted to draw and paint," said Frederick, whose art dream was put on hold when she went to school, married, had kids and worked.
At the age of 48, she started taking art courses. Now 67, she has been an avid student at The Drawing Studio for years.
Her primary medium is sculpting, but she draws constantly - "Steel is just an extension of drawing."
"I just finally had the time to do it," Frederick said. "The hardest part was to put yourself out in front of the public. I was confident as a veterinarian, but as an artist I had to re-establish my confidence level."
Her pieces sell for $200 to $5,000. Go to www.patfrederick.com for more information.
"My advice is practice, practice, practice," Frederick said. "If you want to do it, you can go anywhere and do everything. The more you do it, the easier it gets and the more fun it is."
She likes The Drawing Studio's reasonable prices, the small class sizes and the exposure to practicing artists.
Fleischman, 56, calls herself the poster child of starting a new career. She started printmaking in her mid-30s.
"Many times people will come and say, 'It's something I've always wanted to do, but life got in the way. I'm making the time for me,' " Fleischman said.
Many first-timers start with a 16-week sequence in the fundamental skills of drawing.
Classes cost $175 for the first eight weeks plus about $30 in materials. The second eight-week session costs $190.
"Like reading and writing, it's a skill. It has to be learned," Fleischman said. "You wouldn't hand a Charles Dickens novel to someone's who's just starting to read.
"We spend 12 years teaching people how to read," she said. "Give me eight weeks."
Started by Andrew Rush, The Drawing Studio has 300 members and serves 500 or so students a quarter in about 75 classes.
Classes range from $40 to $250, from one-day workshops to eight-week classes. Many classes meet once a week for three hours.
Yearly memberships cost $60 for individuals; $80 for families; and $25 for full-time students. Members get classes at a 10 percent discount.
"It's not just about having fun; it's not just about learning how to draw and paint - it's about learning how to observe and sharpening your skills of perception," Fleischman said. "Once you do it in one arena, it starts to show up in another arena.
"One of the most common things we hear is 'I see the world differently.' "
Another local studio is You Can Paint, which Patricia Murray has run for nine years. She offers four three-hour group classes for $168 and teaches oil, acrylic and drawing.
"It takes about four classes to complete the average oil painting," said Murry, who has been a painter for 49 years. "If you can't paint, I can teach you."
• The Drawing Studio Inc.: 33 S. Sixth Ave., 620-0947 (www.thedrawingstudio.org)
• Tucson Artist Colony: 2409 N. Castro Ave. (www.tucsonartistcolony.com)
• Tucson Parks and Recreation: 791-4873 (tucsonaz.gov/parksandrec)
• You Can Paint: 8806 E. Tanque Verde Road; 760-1416 (www.azyoucanpaint.com)
Some people describe scuba diving as an extreme sport.
Most divers, however, would probably just describe it as extremely fun.
The extreme comes in when diving at deep depths or in very cold waters, but it's mostly a great opportunity to learn about aquatic life and observe things you'd never see on dry land.
"You're going to feel like an astronaut, floating through space - a sense of awe and wonder," said Mark Rogers, 52-year-old staff instructor and owner of The Dive Shop. "It's a world of peace, beauty and tranquility. You go under and the rest of the world goes away."
Most open-water certification courses take two weekends - one in town for the pool and classroom instruction and one somewhere in Mexico for the open-water lessons.
Prices average $300 for the classroom/pool sessions and materials, in addition to costs for the open-water portion of the certification.
For those who are unsure about scuba, The Dive Shop hosts a free Discover Scuba night the last Wednesday of the month for anyone 10 and older. The event begins at 6:30 p.m. with a 15-minute classroom session.
Prospective divers suit up and learn a few basic skills before going "underwater and playing" in the heated pool.
"We watch over you like mother hens," said Rogers, who trains 600 to 700 divers a year. He teaches every week during the summer and every other week the rest of the year.
To get involved with scuba, students must buy their own mask, snorkel, fins and booties, which cost about $150. The rest of the equipment can be rented or is provided by the dive school.
"The No. 1 quote you always hear is, 'This is something I always want to do,' " said Rogers, who takes students to Fiji twice a year and other exotic places such as last year's trip to Egypt. "People think it's expensive and then they realize that it's not an expensive sport to get into. It's the No. 1 family sport in the world. It's for everybody."
During December, The Dive Shop has a few specials, including a buy one class and get two for free, plus a $95 for educational materials.
Chris Goodwill opened a dive shop called Planet Scuba on Nov. 20 at 4837 N. First Ave.
"It's a different world; it really is; you're in a weightless environment," said Goodwill, of diving. "It's a three-dimensional world."
Goodwill, who has been a dive instructor for six years, wants to offer exotic travel but also not neglect spots in the United States.
"There's all kind of places to go here that are affordable, and you don't need a passport," he said.
Diving costs can add up, but he said it's all relative.
"I have a lot of golf buddies. What they do is a lot of money.
"For about $2,000, you can get all your equipment as a recreational diver that you'll never have to upgrade."
Goodwill plans to feature specials and offers a $50 refresher course for divers who have been out of the water for a while.
Another local company, Seabass Adventures, teaches divers from June to October.
It is operated by Michael Kennedy, an independent PADI scuba instructor, and his wife, Carina Kennedy, a rescue diver. The Kennedys are seventh-grade teachers at Roskruge Bilingual Magnet School - hence the part-time nature of their scuba school.
Go to seabassadventure.com for more information. Gift certificates can be purchased by calling 623-9902.
• Desert Divers: 3110 E. Fort Lowell Road; 887-2822.
• The Dive Shop: 1702 E. Prince Road; 326-2424.
• Planet Scuba: 4837 N. First Ave.; 209-2700.
There's something mesmerizing about watching a pianist's fingers fly over the keys.
The Music and Dance Academy has eight piano teachers at two locations available to teach the academy's most popular instrument.
Russian-born Nina Tishtevich, the academy's director, has played the piano since she was 5.
She said people should invest in at least a keyboard to practice at home.
"Your body's involved with this," she said. "You have to develop the muscle memory."
Prices include $108 for four 30-minute lessons a month to $162 for four 45-minute. Registration fees cost $40 a year.
She likes seeing adult students.
"It's like any subject you would do - the best years of study are when you're young," she said. "As adults, we do it more consciously; we do it because we want to. Motivation is a huge thing."
Tishtevich will start kids as young as 3, but plenty of first-timers are adults.
She said that a 78-year-old man took piano lessons for a couple of years after his doctor recommended it for his arthritis.
"He said that it helped," she said.
If you want to find someone online, Take Lessons is the nation's largest musical lesson provider.
Students book one month or one quarter at a time. Take Lessons sets you up with one of two local piano teachers who offer 30-, 45- or 60-minute lessons for $25, $30 and $39, respectively.
Tishtevich said new students should give it a year, because players probably won't notice a big improvement in two or three months.
The Music and Dance Academy holds monthly recitals. The next free one is at 2 p.m. Dec. 11 at Holsclaw Recital Hall, 1017 N. Olive Road, on the University of Arizona campus. It will feature a variety of instruments, including the piano.
• Allegro School of Music: 4641 N. First Ave., 670-9162 (www.allegroschoolofmusic.net).
• Catalina Foothills Music and Dance Academy: 4811 E. Sunrise Drive, 327-2303 (musicdancetucson.com).
• Oro Valley Music and Dance Academy: 7954 N. Oracle Road, 219-9950 (musicdancetucson.com).
• Take Lessons: 1-877-231-8505 (takelessons.com).