When my kids were little, I used to buy them those popular Advent calendars filled with chocolates. Naturally, I ate all the chocolates, since chocolate isn't good for kids. Then I replaced the spaces with suggestions for fun holiday activities, such as "Get Christmas Tree," "See Santa," "Make Cookies" and so on. Every day the kids opened a tiny door and found an activity that kept them busy until their new toys arrived.

After the kids grew up, I continued to buy the calendars, but just for the chocolates. This year I have a different plan. I'm going to create a Personalized Countdown to Christmas Calendar -- just for me.

Day 1: Get a Tree. After promising myself never to use a fake tree, I'm thinking about getting a fake tree. Year after year we go to the real tree lot and buy a real tree, only to toss it out a few weeks later when it's turned to kindling. Think how much money I'll save buying a fake tree that has the shelf life of a Twinkie. (No more Twinkies?!)

Day 2: Bake Cookies. I used to bake all kinds of Christmas cookies -- candy cane cookies, wreath cookies, snowball cookies, Santa cookies. I have to say, it was a lot of work. This year I'm buying a pack of Holiday Oreos and leaving them out for Santa, along with a glass of spiked egg nog and a diabetes self-check kit.


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Day 3: See Santa. I want to sit on Santa's lap this year and ask for a bunch of stuff, like a giant 3-D TV, new furniture, stylish clothes, Channing Tatum and cool sculpting (fat removal). And I still want to know why I didn't get that pony I ordered as a kid.

Day 4: Go Shopping. I plan to take my gift list and see if I can afford anything on it. When I get depressed after realizing everyone wants a new iPad, which is not in my budget, I'll buy one for myself to cheer me up.

Day 5: Decorate Tree. I'm going to toss out all the old broken ornaments and really dress the tree up this year with billions of lights that blink in rhythm to "Gangnam Style." I'll add a few glass bulbs at the bottom for the cats to play with.

Day 6: Wrap Gifts. After the tree is up and decorated, I'll stuff a bunch of gift cards into festive envelopes and stick bows on the outside. Who doesn't love getting a gift card for $10, good at places like the gas station or grocery store?

Day 7: Sing Carols. I'll buy a few new songbooks, then gather the family and we'll serenade the neighborhood with holiday favorites such as "The Economy Got Run Over by a (fill in Republican or Democrat)" using Chipmunk voices.

Day 8: Eat Figgy Pudding. Don't know what that is, but it seems to be popular around this time of year, so I'm going to check it out. Probably tastes something like haggis.

Day 9: Watch Holiday Movies. Nothing says "Christmas" like watching old favorites such as "Freddy's Christmas on Elm Street," " 'Twas Sold Out Before Christmas," "Rudolph the Red-Nosed (and inebriated) Santa" and "Deck the Relatives."

Dec. 10-24: Drink spiked egg nog.

Dec. 25: Enjoy a Merry Christmas.

Reach Penny Warner at www. pennywarner.com.