Lea asked "What kind of camera do you recommend for someone who just wants to shoot some great pics that can be hung on the wall? What photo editing software would be the best? Do you know of any casual classes that can be taken for someone who wants just a basic knowledge of photography?"
I shoot with Canon so, that is the only thing that I really know anything about but I know that Nikon is a great brand as well. You usually just end up sticking with what you start out with. I highly recommend getting a DSLR camera if you are wanting great photos. They are quite a bit more expensive than a point and shoot but you will see a huge difference in your images. I know that there are a lot of great point and shoot cameras out there but I don't own one so, I have no expertise there.
I recommend going with a Canon Rebel to start out. I actually started with the 30D which is a bit of an upgrade from the Rebel but is well worth it. You could even go for a used camera body.
My favorite lenses to shoot with are fixed lenses. This means that they do not zoom in and out. You actually have to move your body or switch out your lens. They end up taking much more crisp and sharp images than a zoom. Plus, if you are wanting a good one zoom lenses can get pretty pricey. I would recommend starting with a 50mm 1.8 lens. The 1.8 is your aperture setting. This is what will give you that nice portrait type photo where the background is blurry and your subject is nice and sharp. Also, when your lens is 1.8 or lower it will work better in low lighting situations.
Like in this photo, the area around her eyes is in focus and detailed while the rest of the photo sort of fades into a blur. This was shot with a 1.8 aperture.
I edit with photoshop and lightroom. I know that those are probably a bit expensive for those who are not doing photography professionally. There are lots of online editing applications out there that are either free or quite affordable like picnik.com
As far as classes go. There is only one way to go if you want to have fun. A snap shop by Ashley Ann. But, you need to email her right away to get put on a list of some ort because she fills her classes up faster than you can even think about it and she only does them once a month.
I had the great honor of photographing her and her precious family last year.
I am sure that there are other less fun and creatively stimulating options out there but why bother? ;)