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Our no-tricks guide to giving an experience to treasure in this holiday season 

The ever-illusive gift

They're things that pop up every now and then, usually when you're distracted, and almost never when you're under the gun to buy some gifts.

A coffee-brewing class? That sounds cool.

I really should check out that ModboCo school sometime.

A hot-air balloon ride ... my dad would love that.

Then you go back to checking Facebook, or playing fantasy football, or peeling the cat off the curtains.

Well, friends, today we encourage you to give these ideas the attention they deserve — and to get a jump on your holiday shopping. What follows are some of the finest ideas for "experience" gifts that we could identify in the Pikes Peak region. Whether they'll yield warm bread, or cool stained glass, or zip-line windburn, we assure you they will not be thrown in the back of a closet and forgotten. If you've got other ideas, feel free to post them as comments on this story.

  • Video by Ashley Thompson and Craig Lemley
  • click to enlarge Zombie makeup class and magic classes from Zeezo's
    • Brian Scannelly
    • Zeezos

    Let it bleed

    OK, I'll grant you there are some swell gift ideas later in this article, but there's only one that will teach your beloved to create oozing wound makeup effects. New from Zeezo's (112 N. Tejon St., zeezos.com), its two-hour Special Effects Makeup Course is for ages 14 to adult, comes with the Ben Nye 3D Effects Kit, and hits all the basics of realistic zombie, horror and injury makeup techniques. Oodles of fake gore and scabs for the entire family, and for only 60 bucks a pop.

    Simulated wounds not hitting that festive note? Well perhaps your giftee will delight in one of two beginners' magic classes.

    Instant Miracles is for magicians 14 and older, who will spend two hours learning how to conjure using everyday items. The Instant Miracles Card Magic DVD is included with the $50 class fee. Then there's the Amazing Magic Tricks class, which teaches participants 10 and older to make magic with common objects found in homes and offices. The $40 class fee includes the Everyday Objects DVD.

    Gift certificates are available for any or all of these classes, and you can register at jmodeer@zeezos.com. — Mary Jo Meade

    Ink of me

    Once the sole province of seafaring men who felt a need to share their affection for moms and anchors, tattoos have since become the body modification of choice for all strata of society. They're also intimate and enduring, so picking up gift certificates from a tattoo shop that specializes in butterfly and "THUG LIFE" images may not be the best idea.

    "We don't have any flash at all in the shop," says Pens & Needles' Paige Thompson, referring to the binders and walls full of pre-designed images that are still found in many tattoo parlors. "You're more than welcome to bring in reference pictures and stuff like that, but everything will be drawn up before your appointment."

    Pens & Needles (pens-needles.com) offers non-refundable gift certificates in any denomination, which are redeemable for tattoos, piercings, deposits, tips and aftercare. Bear in mind that the shop minimum is $50.

    "Our artists are usually running between $100 and $150 an hour," says Thompson, "so it really depends on the size of the piece, the artist, and how much detail is going into it."

    It's also worth noting that Pens & Needles won best tattoo parlor in this year's Indy Best Of competition. Of course, if your giftee already has a favorite shop, that's where you'll want to go. Just be sure to remind him or her that Juggalo tats never go out of style.

    Also see these Best Of finalists: Shrap Metal, Ink Inertia Custom Tattoo and Art Gallery, Freaky's (freakys.com). — Bill Forman

    A matter of taste

    You "smell" wine. You "nose" spirits. And no matter what you call it, you should breathe in the aromas with your lips apart to allow for what Soireé owner and tasting instructor Michaela Hightower calls "retro nasal activity" — or a full opening of the nasal passages to best allow nuances to be introduced to your palate.

    These are the types of tips that can be learned through the Curious Palate Tasting Club at Soireé (1003 S. Tejon St., coloradospringsvenue.com), perfect for the 21-plus giftee who's the type that would like to learn how to pinpoint tobacco, orange blossoms or dark chocolate in his or her alcoholic beverage of choice.

    Geographically themed wine tastings happen every fourth Wednesday evening of the month; spirit and brew classes, the second Wednesday of most months. Both are just $25 per person for beverages, paired small bites and education in an intimate environment (no more than 24 people at a time).

    Looking to spend a little bit more? Splurge on one of the quarterly Curious Palate Suppers, melding regional drinks, coffee and a multiple-course, family-style meal, for just $55 a head. Visit the website to reserve a specific date or to purchase a gift certificate. — Kirsten Akens

    Feeling the drama

    In theater, the big push for subscribers and pass-buyers usually comes before the season starts. At least that's the way it is at the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center, according to Kim Husted, director of patron services.

    But the FAC does something to encourage latecomers, too: It offers a "short season" subscription to its theater program, at a cost that's prorated.

    So through Dec. 29, the last day of the FAC's Wizard of Oz run, Husted and Co. are offering packages that will get you into Wizard, plus the four main-stage theater shows scheduled for the first half of 2014, for somewhere between $83 and $133. For the record, those '14 shows are: Play It Again, Sam; Agnes of God; Forever Plaid; and Floyd and Clea Under the Western Sky.

    When you buy one of these subscriptions, you're buying entry into a specific day of each show's run — for instance, a ticket to each Second Saturday matinee performance (for $116.66). The FAC also offers FlexPasses, where you get a pack of passes that you can use anytime (assuming there are open seats when you show up). That'll run you $130 for a four-pack, $165 for a five-pack, and $200 for a six-pack.

    Husted doesn't want to talk you out of such a thing, of course, but she does point out that "one of the nice things about the subscriptions versus the FlexPass is that you also get the same seat, unless you decide to change your tickets for any of the shows. A lot of people think that's a big perk, because they love to have their seats."

    TheatreWorks offers its own Anytime Passes; a $90 one will get you into the three shows scheduled between January and May of 2014: The Weir, Venus in Fur and The Servant of Two Masters. Also, if you're a sucker for George Bailey's redemption story, look into giving an early gift of tickets to It's a Wonderful Life, which TW is doing as "a live radio play" from Dec. 5 through Dec. 22.

    The Millibo Art Theatre's Flex Pass ($108) is good for 12 punches that you can use for kids' shows and RIP Improv shows or "premiere" shows; the former will cost you one punch per person; the latter, two punches. Finally, look into THEATREdART, Springs Ensemble Theatre and Star Bar Players shows. Package offerings and gift certificates tend to be more limited, but organizing a night out to see A Clockwork Orange (TdA) or Paula Vogel's Desdemona (SET) will be worth it. — Kirk Woundy

    Knotty and nice

    During the next five months of frigid Colorado nights, it'd be quite a pleasant thing to have a lap full of fluffy knitting yarn or a crocheted afghan-in-progress. So if there are fiber-arts mavens on your shopping list — or folks who love creating wonderful new things using wonderful old skills — consider wrapping up a gift certificate for classes in weaving, spinning, dyeing, felting, tatting, quilting, knitting, sewing or crochet.

    As it happens, we are blessed with deep ranks of experts in all of these fields, and each of those with whom we talked offers gift certificates and a variety of skills- and project-based classes.

    Old Colorado City's Green Valley Weavers and Knitters (2115 W. Colorado Ave., greenvalleyweavers.com) offers beginning and advanced classes in knitting, crochet, spinning, weaving, tatting and felting. Their specialists give solo private lessons for $20 an hour, and the Yarn Doctor can get your giftee past a tough spot in a knitting or crochet project for $10. Need a non-ho-hum holiday party idea? Treat your guests to a Green Valley beginners' knitting or crochet class at the venue of your choice.

    Just up the street, Fabric Bliss (2616 W. Colorado Ave., #21, fabricblisscolosprings.com) can teach your nearest and dearest the ups and downs of machine sewing, with crochet, knitting, quilting, applique and free-motion quilting classes also on offer. (And if you're in need some festive-season down-time for your own self, just tote along your project and cozy down in Fabric Bliss' free Yarn Lounge.)

    For those who subscribe to the belief that "She who dies with the most fabric wins," Ruth's Stitchery (4440 Austin Bluffs Pkwy., ruthsstitchery.com) is nirvana. And although this east-side fiber-arts stalwart has a deep focus on quilting, offering all levels of classes on hand and machine piecing and quilting, there is also instruction in cross-stitch, punch-needle work, felting and tatting.

    Out in Black Forest, Table Rock Llamas (6520 Shoup Road, tablerockllamas.com) is one of few fiber-arts meccas in the region where you can get messy dyeing both protein and cellulose (animal and vegetable) fibers with both natural and chemical dyes. Table Rock also offers classes in weaving, spinning, wet felting, knitting and crochet, and something they call Fiber Fun, where they teach such rarefied skills as drum carding.

    Also see: Woolly Works Knit Shop (327 N. Tejon St., woollyworksknitshop.com), Nana's Quilt Cottage (35 S. 26th St., nanasquiltcottage.com), and the options offered at your neighborhood fabric/yarn/crafts shop. — Mary Jo Meade

    click to enlarge Adventures Out West hot-air balloon tour
    • Greg Wellens
    • Adventures Out West

    Oh holy fright

    Where Christmas meets Colorado, here's what you find: tours in a hot-air balloon, along zip-lines, on a mountain bike, in a kayak, up a rock face, or down a Jeep trail. In other words, adventure.

    Many companies offer such jolly good times in our region. But if you can stomach the self-promotion — and we hope you can, since it means great deals for you — we'd like to highlight a few that are currently offering discounts on csindy.com's Garden of the Goods "marketplace." They're First Ascent Mountain School (firstascentmountainschool.com), Rocky Mountain Outdoor Center (rmoc.com), and Adventures Out West (advoutwest.com), each offering a $50 coupon worth $100 of fun. (Prices vary for trips and training, so be sure to check the various websites.)

    At First Ascent, your loved one can go on guided rock-climbing, ice-climbing, snowshoeing and hiking trips, or take an in-depth climbing course or clinic. All guides are trained by American Mountain Guides Association and certified in wilderness first aid, while winter guides also have avalanche training. Consider: Most of the trips get cheaper per person if a few people go, meaning there's plenty of incentive to make it a group adventure.

    Rocky Mountain Outdoor Center is located in Salida, where your loved one will be able to choose from rock-climbing, rafting, kayaking, stand-up paddling and mountain-bike tours, including overnight trips. Or they could choose to take a course in kayaking, stand-up paddling, rock climbing or raft guide training.

    Finally, there's Adventures Out West, probably the best choice for the adventurous soul who doesn't want to work too hard. This company's offerings include hot air balloon rides, Jeep tours, Segway tours and, perhaps best-known, zip-line rides. Adventures Out West has five lines in rugged terrain that vary in length from 225 feet to more than 650 feet. Touring them takes about two hours, including a Jeep ride to the site. Owner Greg Wellens says they make for a popular gift: "We call it the best hour of adrenaline on the Front Range." — J. Adrian Stanley

    Pampering, please

    When you get to a certain age, there's no more room to stow another centerpiece or fondue pot. So give a gift that goes away, but still sticks with you — like a haircut, facial, massage, manicure or all of the above.

    Because it ranked first in the Indy's 2013 Best Of contest for Hair Salon and Day Spa, allow us to steer you to Veda Salon & Spa (coloradoveda.com), which has three locations: 5182 N. Nevada Ave.; 2110 Southgate Road, #201; and 7443 N. Academy Blvd.

    Andi at the Southgate location tells us gift cards can be used for services or products at Veda, and because all three locations in Colorado Springs are open seven days a week, bets are good you can get an appointment within a week or so. Multiple services are more tricky, she says, because it means scheduling and coordinating several service providers.

    There's no minimum or maximum amount. But for $250, you can give a package that would include a massage, haircut, manicure and facial. Veda's website lists prices of all its packages and individual services.

    Also see these Best Of finalists: Mateo's Salon & Day Spa (5919 Delmonico Drive, mateosdayspa.com), Genesis MedSpa (142 S. Raven Mine Drive, #250, genesis-medspa.com). — Pam Zubeck

    click to enlarge ModboCo - EDIE ADELSTEIN
    • Edie Adelstein
    • ModboCo

    Artistic license

    My grandmother's such a baller. For a housewarming gift for me and my fiancé, she pulled out her old stained glass tools and made us a beautiful green pot leaf, complete with a long slender stem and a cluster of lead seeds dotted in the center.The woman neither smokes nor looks down upon those of us who do. But she does illustrate a great point: An artistic skill, or a class led by someone with said skill, can produce amazing results. Hence an art class for a gift.

    There are a wealth of choices here, but when it comes to flexibility, you can't beat Full Spectrum Art Glass Supply & Gallery (828A E. Fillmore St., fsartglass.com). Take a spin through its monthly calendar and you'll find one-day classes, extended courses and an even larger list of appointment-only courses. As for the arts themselves, you can do any kind of glass-makin' you want: enameling on metal for jewelry, stained glass, glass fusing, and mosaic or painting on glass. Costs can dip as low as $40, and reach as high as nearly $300.

    All skill levels are welcome. But owner Coral Cornish says that when it comes to choosing a class for someone, think about what experience he or she wants to have.

    "If you know somebody, for example, who's always wanted to do stained glass, and they would really want to learn the skills to do that, you might give them a skills-based class that we have, which is a 20-hour course," she says. "Versus, we have quite a few [classes] that are project-based that you don't have to have any experience. You can basically, set aside a space and be successful in a session."

    Cornish adds that Full Spectrum can sometimes accommodate last-minute requests, like a family that has a few hours and craves an activity.

    Also see: Bemis School of Art (818 Pelham Place, csfineartscenter.org/education.asp), Cottonwood Center for the Arts (427 E. Colorado Ave., cottonwoodcenterforthearts.com), ModboCo School of Art (Ivywild School, 1604 S. Cascade Ave., themodboco.com), Sheppard Art Institute (sheppardartinstitute.org). — Edie Adelstein

    click to enlarge Colorado Springs Food Tours
    • Courtesy CSFT
    • Colorado Springs Food Tours

    Tour de force

    Chew on this: You're downtown for 2½ hours, being guided and entertained among a half-dozen culinary spots, savoring "generous samples of food and drink" while meeting with the respective chefs and restaurateurs. It's like a sanctioned dine-and-dash, or customized progressive dinner.

    "We want to provide a local food experience that's new whether you are local or visiting, where you walk away full and happy, having gotten to know other people and had a memorable time," says Colorado Springs Food Tours (coloradospringsfoodtours.com) co-owner Samantha Bruner. "You can discover new local favorites, like Spice Island Grill. People say, 'Oh my gosh, I can't believe I haven't been here before, this place is great,' and then they become regulars."

    That gem of a downtown Jamaican eatery is only one of a dozen weekly rotating eateries featured in CSFT's Delicious Downtown Food Tour ($49, up to six stops). The company also runs The Springs Brew Tour ($69, three breweries), the Downtown Cocktail and Cuisine Tour ($29, four stops) and Manitou Springs Food Tour ($49, up to six stops).

    Gift certificates can easily be purchased on CSFT's website — sign up for its newsletter while there for occasional discount coupons — for any of the tours. They generally require a minimum of six participants to launch, so groups such as small holiday parties or celebrations are encouraged, up to a max of 12 people. Bruner says between 60 and 70 percent of attendees have been locals since the business launched in summer 2010, so don't think of the edible excursion as just for entertaining out-of-town guests. — Matthew Schniper

    Urban renewal

    We caught Christine Faith a day before she left to talk at the National Conference for Women in Sustainable Agriculture in Des Moines, her fifth speaking engagement in five weeks. An appearance on a widely listened-to podcast was to follow. This, just a month after winning this year's bronze award for Best Blogger in the Indy's annual readers' poll.

    Basically, she must feel super famous. "-Ish," Faith says, laughing. "I'm getting kind of famous."

    It's urban homesteading that has put her on the map, through her educational organization Right to Thrive. But Faith's career has been building toward this point her whole life, not least because she remembers feelings of food insecurity while growing up on a small farm in Oregon.

    After that, though, the 40-year-old says, she worked as a park ranger at Crater Lake National Park; formulated federal budgets in Washington, D.C.; did research and development on high-tech historic preservation methods; taught science to kids in Colorado Springs School District 11; and toiled as an urban planner specializing in light-rail development.

    You can imagine how useful the latter is in Colorado Springs, so now the five-year resident designs backyard growing spaces, runs her 1,000-square-foot urban farm in the Ivywild neighborhood (where, disclosure, I serve on the Ivywild Improvement Society's board), and teaches individual classes to anyone who wants to know what she knows.

    And now, for the first time, all those individual bits have been compiled into a 16-segment Backyard Farming 101, spread over four weekends in February. Framed like a college class, at the Center for Powerful Living (635 Southpointe Court, righttothrive.org), the lectures cost $495 — but there's also an online version for $98, which can then be lowered to $33 with a successful scholarship application. Those in apartment buildings, or living within strict HOA guidelines, can even find a free online class to address those limitations.

    But it's the urban homestead — the full dedication of available yard space to integrated farming — that's the real focus. Classes teach you about things like micro-climates, soil pH, shade pockets, ideal techniques for dealing with wind and sun direction, water laws, money management, rabbits, goats, fruits, vegetables and on and on.

    "I'll save you time, money, [and] energy — I promise," Faith says. "You're going to learn things that you didn't know you even needed to ask about."

    It's all a part of creating sustainable systems of production that make sense in a timeless sort of way.

    "Natural systems — flora and fauna — were never meant to be split apart," she says, "and when you split them your soils become depleted and your concentrated animal situations become, basically, toxic. But when you put those back together in a farm setting, in that urban homestead setting, you start to bring balance back to that landscape."

    And, from a planetary perspective, that's about as laudatory as it gets.

    Also see: Hungry Chicken Homestead (hungrychickenhomestead.com), the Goat Cheese Lady (thegoatcheeselady.wordpress.com), and Buckley's Homestead Supply (buckleyshomesteadsupply.com). — Bryce Crawford

    click to enlarge R&R Coffee
    • Courtesy R&R Coffee
    • R&R Coffee decor

    Caffeinate this

    We all know people who have to be niche about everything. They can't simply use a ballpoint pen, but instead a quill and inkpot. (I actually know this person.) They can't write their novel on a computer, but must employ a typewriter (then re-type it on a computer later).

    These people can be hard to shop for, but we've got you covered with R&R Coffee Café (11424 Black Forest Road, rnrcoffeecafe.com) coffee education classes.

    Speaking with owner and roast master Ryan Wanner is like speaking with the most caffeinated man on the planet, which he probably is. His excitement about coffee borders on infatuation, and he really, really wants to share it with you.

    "I offer a handful of workshops," says Wanner. "The main one is the Coffee 101, which is the history of coffee all the way up to different roast practices of the day. You get to try various samples of coffee and try different roast styles." With this class, it really is the thought that counts, because it's free.

    The Advanced Brew Method Workshop goes deeper into the process of how coffee can be made (French press, Chemex, etc.), showing the ways that subtle changes in technique can alter quality. "I step through these brew methods. I don't change anything about the weights or amounts of coffee, but each comes out slightly different." This class is $10 a person, including a half-pound bag of your favorite coffee.

    R&R offers many other classes worth checking out, including one on how to bake cinnamon rolls, which I think my whole family would support my taking. However, Latte Art and You probably sounds like the most fun. "It can be stretched into a three-day thing," says Wanner. "You're so tired of looking at milk by the time you're done." Well, pretty fun.

    If you get good enough, you could show off your skills with the swan or rosetta. The swan is, well, a swan. "The rosetta is the big leaf thing," he says. "The double one is literally putting two of those in a cup. You've got to have full and total control over your milk to get even the single rosetta." The Latte Art and You workshop is also $10 a person.

    If you gift someone one of these workshops, you're ostensibly providing him or her with the most niche talent ever and, potentially, bragging rights for as long as he or she can pour milk into the shape of a bird. — Gracie Ramsdell

    Brush it on

    What better way to paint the town red than to do so haphazardly with a brush in one hand, glass of wine in the other, and a buzz to take the edge off?

    One option is Splash! (115 N. Tejon St., splashsprings.com), which is locally owned and was the first wine-and-painting place to open in the area, 2½ years ago. "We listen to music really loud and have trivia questions," says Leah Phappabitty, an artist and instructor. "It's not a typical art class."

    A Splash! gift could work well for single-and-unsure-of-how-to-mingle folk looking for a not-so-typical night out. "You're guaranteed to meet people," says Phappabitty. "We've even seen people exchange numbers to go on dates. It's just a really good atmosphere."

    For $35, you get 2½ hours, with step-by-step guidance from an instructor, to execute a select painting. Wine is $6 a glass or $20 a bottle; beer is $4.

    Another option is Painting with a Twist (2834 N. Powers Blvd., paintingwithatwist.com/coloradosprings), a franchise with 100 studios across the nation. With more than 3,000 paintings, this studio hosts some of the "best instructors in the whole city," says Beckie Moss, studio manager.

    "You get to come in and have a really fun time and walk away with a finished product," says Moss. "You always have that memory of the painting on the wall to remind you." Rates start at $35 for a two-hour class and $45 for a three-hour class.

    With both businesses promoting this painting experience as "fun art," not "fine art," it's no wonder they serve wine to loosen the more tightly wound among us. — Anna Palmer

    click to enlarge The French Kitchen
    • The French Kitchen

    Christmas crust

    Chef Blandine Brutel of the French Kitchen (tfkcc.com, gift certificates available) left her native France for Colorado Springs five years ago, and now she teaches small groups of six to cook and bake specialties of her home country: quiche, Beef Bourguignon, royal cakes and much more.

    A good place to start is Brutel's basic French bread baking class, a $25-per-person), one-hour, get-your-hands-sticky introduction to producing classic baguettes and dinner rolls. Bakers get to fill up on tasty samples while there, and take home a bag full of goodies.

    While Brutel's looking forward to a new crêpes class in January, right now her favorite to teach is the three-hour Sweet Tarts class ($68 per person), including both chocolate and fruit varieties: "I enjoy showing how with simple ingredients and a good crust, you can make something really tasty."

    And while neither of these options would be opportune for your gluten-free giftees, Brutel does offer a four-hour GF class ($78/per person), which features a full-course meal, from salad to dessert. The meringue on top? For the parents on your list with young kiddos, Brutel teaches in her home kitchen, and can provide babysitting services on-site. — Kirsten Akens

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