by Ann M. Colford

There's always a calm before the storm, and there's always a bit of a lull just before Christmas. Starting the Friday after Thanksgiving, there's a mad rush to buy gifts, attend parties and videotape the school's Christmas pageant. But usually people get caught up just a few days before the holidays, and the whole family is left with little to do. Tuesday, Dec. 21, looks like just such a day, so here's what one family might do: Mom and Dad take the day off, load their two kids and their best friends in the family truckster and head downtown. Getting out of the car, they can all feel the warmth of family time together -- OK, enough of that. Dad divvies up some spending cash, and everybody happily goes off on their own.

Dear Old Dad

His wife keeps bugging him about what he wants for Christmas, so Dad starts by poking around inside Anderson & amp; Emami's men's clothing store in River Park Square. The staff is always eager to help, and their big selection of Tommy Bahama duds calls to his mind a day in the clubhouse after a round of golf. His wish list practically writes itself. Feeling a little shaggy, he heads across the street to the new Weldon Barber -- a new concept in getting the old ears lowered. It's a short wait for a walk-in, so he settles into one of their comfy leather chairs, opens up the Wall Street Journal and peeks over it from time to time to catch what's on CNBC on the big wall-mounted flat-screen TV. A few warm towels later, and he's clean-cut and out the door.

Speaking of flat-screen TVs, his next stop is filled with 'em. He meets up with his buddies at Heroes & amp; Legends sports bar. They down some burgers, talk about their latest home improvement quagmires -- all while watching a dozen or so TVs at once. Basically, it's Dad Heaven. Soon enough, it's time to move on, and the whole crew heads out across Riverfront Park for the Spokane Arena, where they'll watch the Gonzaga Bulldogs and the Eastern Eagles -- both NCAA tournament qualifiers last year -- battle it out. Loaded down with popcorn, coke and a giant foam finger, dad settles into his seat just in time for tip-off.

Time for mom

For the past few weeks, Mom's been shopping for everyone else. Now it's her turn. Meeting up with two girlfriends, they stay in the orbit of River Park Square -- a place where she can find things she can't get anywhere else in the region. At Ann Taylor, Pottery Barn, Nordstrom and Williams-Sonoma, the team of professional shoppers examines every object carefully. Just across the street, there's Moose Lake and then Jigsaw, a place with the kinds of clothes you used to have to travel to Seattle to find.

After every fabric has been stroked and every scent tested, they walk up to the Davenport Hotel, where's there's just enough time for a latte in the lobby. Afterwards, they go check in for their appointments at Spa Paradiso in the hotel's lower level. It's Spa Samplers all around. The package includes an Express Facial and a Mineral Salt Glow -- that's salt from the Dead Sea rubbed into your body as an exfoliant and purifier. It's all topped off by a 25-minute Swedish massage. Mom is now officially relaxed, and just in time to make their dinner reservations over at Anthony's. The group settles into a booth overlooking the falls as the waitress asks, "Do you want the wine list?"

"Yes," they answer. "We do."

Girls' day out

Their 16-year-old daughter Sara and her friend Jenny spend the afternoon exploring the nooks and crannies of downtown's retail district. They step out of the cold for lunch at Soulful Soups, located in a classic old structure on Howard Street. Hearty bread and their choice from a variety of homemade soups warm them up enough to head back out into the December air. They detour over to Auntie's Bookstore, where they look over the magazines and selection of young adult novels. Upstairs, they buy some homemade greeting cards in the Paper Garden, and ogle the colorful, locally made jewelry in Argentum Aurum.

Back inside River Park Square, they find their way downstairs and into the new Color Me Mine shop. Always looking to give a genuine gift for the holidays, Sara has found just the place. After you paint any of the shop's more than 400 items -- from candlesticks to dog bowls -- they glaze it and fire it and you pick it up later. Sara and Jenny pick out a couple of serving platters for their moms, clear out a work space, open the jar of paint, dip in their brushes and look up to each other asking, "So what are you going to paint?"

Boys will be boys

Right out of the car, 14-year-old Cam and his friend Joey knew exactly where they were going: EB Games on the third floor of River Park Square. There they test some new video game titles and pore over the hundreds and hundreds of games for sale. Mom's last words were, "Don't forget to eat," but that's just what they did. Luckily, there's a Subway in the mall food court. A couple of meatball sandwiches later, and the boys had conquered those grumblings in their tummies. But that didn't stop 'em from having a couple of cones from Ben & amp; Jerry's right next door.

Cam needs to buy some presents, but he's on a bit of tight budget, what with only being 14 and all. Over at Crescent Court, they have a good time shopping with younger kids at Santa Express, where kids can buy gifts and learn about holiday charity. The proceeds from the purchases go to the Vanessa Behan Crisis Nursery, and the gifts are all less than $10.

Then it's back over to the AMC theaters, where they have an appointment with Jim Carrey, star of Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events. Cam's twisted babysitter turned him on to the series of kids' books a few years back, and he's been counting the days to the big screen version. But first it's time to load up on candy at the concession counter. So many choices. Let's see, he thinks, Dots or Red Vines? Hmmm...

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