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Seasonal Strategies: Counting Down

Martha Stewart Living, December 2006

For many people, the four weeks following Thanksgiving are among the busiest of the year. This week-by-week chart includes many of the to-dos that will come up. Tailor it to fit the needs of your household and the traditions you value most.

Week 1
Write out gift lists and organize addresses, preferably on a computer or a PDA to help with neatness and efficiency.

Buy stamps, cards, and wrapping supplies. Plan a "secret Santa" or other gift swap with friends to limit your total number of purchases.

Sign, address, and send holiday cards.

Spend a few hours shopping on weekdays or after work, when stores are calmer than they are on weekends.

Ship gifts early to guarantee on-time delivery; save a trip to the post office by scheduling an at-home pickup at www.usps.com.

Carry your address book or PDA as you shop, since some stores will ship items directly.

Firm up travel plans; when the time comes, check in and print boarding passes at home.

Week 2
Plan holiday menus; order a turkey, a ham, or other specialty foods.

Shop online; you can do so at any time of day and it will save you the time of wrapping and shipping gifts.

Unpack decorations and inspect them for damaged ornaments and burned-out bulbs.

Take an inventory of baking staples and replace those that are running low.

Set up a wrapping station in a low-traffic area of your home; wrap gifts as you buy them.

Hand out gifts and gratuities to service people.

Buy bulk gifts, such as a case of wine or multiple candles, to offer to neighbors, acquaintances, and party hosts.

Drop off a few festive outfits at a dry cleaner.

Week 3
Complete half of the house cleaning, starting with infrequently used areas, such as the guest room or formal dining area.

Put up exterior decorations; greenery lasts longer outdoors.

Polish silver and hand-wash stemware.

Make and freeze cookie dough to bake as you need treats over the coming days.

Have a family outing to pick out the tree and other greenery; you can also buy a tree online and have it delivered.

Put up interior decorations.

Trim the tree toward the end of the week; you'll have time to enjoy it, and it will stay fresh.

Prepare chicken stock for use in gravy and other recipes; freeze the stock in jumbo muffin tins and keep the rounds in freezer bags.

Week 4
Wash and iron table linens, then roll them around wrapping-paper tubes for short-term, wrinkle-free storage.

Shop for food, again at an off-hour (some stores and markets expand their hours); consider having your purchases delivered.

Clean the rest of the house, this time focusing on frequently used rooms.

Finish up any last-minute wrapping.

Take stock of and clean serving dishes and utensils if you're hosting a holiday meal.

Make seating plans and write out place cards; set the table.

Prepare make-ahead side dishes; cranberry sauce, for example, can be taken care of early.

Get an early-morning jump on the main meal to allow more time for socializing.