Count the holidays - and holiday chores - with our planning calendar

The holiday season hits fast and hard. One day, you're enjoying the fall weather. The next, you have an overwhelming to-do list, too many invitations and a half-dozen family members flying in from Wisconsin.

By mid-November, you're on the brink of full-fledged holiday madness. But calm down. We're here to help ease the way -- and help you keep up with deadlines -- with our holiday planning calendar.

Nov. 16

Pack a shoe box full of goodies for a child in need. Operation Christmas Child is accepting holiday gift boxes through the end of this week. More details:

Nov. 17

Want to have your holiday lights installed by a pro? Make your reservation as soon as possible, say the folks at DFW Lights. Check out, which hires contractors around the Metroplex.

Nov. 18

If the house is a mess, hire a cleaning service -- but make the call today. In the pre-Thanksgiving rush, you should call at least 72 hours in advance.

Nov. 19

There's a lot to keep track of during the holidays. Sign up for a free account at, which sends e-mails or texts to remind you of appointments, obligations and deadlines. (It also handles shopping lists.)

Nov. 20

Plan your Thanksgiving menu and brave the grocery-store crowds. If you can, avoid the Saturday-afternoon madness by buying everything but deli items in the late evening -- say, after 9 p.m. -- when fewer people are shopping.

Nov. 21

Go back to the store today to pick up what you forgot. While you're there, pick up some items to donate to the Tarrant Area Food Bank. Go to for a list of what is most needed.

Nov. 22

For a gift for your Thanksgiving host, try one of Fort Worth's museum shops. Or head for the Vending Nut Co., 2222 Montgomery St. in Fort Worth, to find some gifts that travel well.

Nov. 23

Is the cooking thing not working out? You still have time to order your Thanksgiving meal (or part of it) from a grocery store. Most stores require a day's notice, but some require two.

Nov. 24

Thanksgiving is tomorrow. Did you buy wine? Nov. 25

Enjoy Thanksgiving Day. Eat some pie.

Nov. 26

It's Black Friday. Go out early and elbow some strangers for a cheap laptop. Or skip it all and head downtown for Fort Worth's Parade of Lights, which starts at 6 p.m.

Nov. 27

Sick of leftovers yet? Go to for new ideas.

Nov. 28

It's time to put up the lights -- maybe even the Christmas tree. Go to and search for "apple cider" for great cider recipes to try while decorating.

Nov. 29

It's Cyber Monday, the season's second consumer crush. For help finding the online deals, go to or

Nov. 30

Help out the troops during the holidays: Operation Gratitude organizes care packages for members of the military. Go to (And hurry: Care packages must be received by Dec. 4.)

Dec. 1

Hanukkah begins. Non-cooks: Whole Foods offers a prepared Hanukkah meal and potato latke platters.

Dec. 2

Want to order holiday cards with a personalized photo? processes holiday card orders through the first week of December.

Dec. 3

Another card solution: Donate to the Tarrant Area Food Bank and volunteers will send out holiday cards for you. Go to to get details and see this year's card design. Deadline to order is Dec. 10.

Dec. 4

Give in to the joy of the season: Go to Christmas in the Stockyards. Watch a parade, get your face painted and say hi to Cowboy Santa.

Dec. 5

Want to have a holiday party but haven't planned one yet? Instead, send invitations now for a post-holiday party in January. It'll perk up January. Dec. 6

RSVP to all your holiday invitations -- right now.

Dec. 7

Plan a holiday volunteer project for your family. Go to and click on "Volunteer" for ideas.

Dec. 8

Do not stress over finding the perfect Secret Santa gift. Buy two movie tickets, wrap them up, and call it a day.

Dec. 9

Buy wrapping paper. Check out the selection at 99 Cents Only, which sells wrapping paper from major retailers (for, yes, 99 cents).

Dec. 10

Drop at least $5 in the Salvation Army kettle.

Dec. 11

While standing in a long line, work on your inner peace. Breathe deeply. Repeat this mantra: "I am calm. I am filled with the joy of the season. I do not hate everyone in this line." Try not to hate everyone in line.

Dec. 12

Too stressed-out to send Christmas cards? Consider New Year's cards instead. You'll have extra time, and they'll extend the joy of the season.

Dec. 13

Sit down and make a list of what you have ordered online -- and when it is scheduled to arrive. Shipping and deliveries can be unreliable this month.

Dec. 14

Save time. At many retailers -- including Best Buy, the Container Store and Borders -- you can purchase or reserve items online, then pick them up at the store's cash register.

Dec. 15

Go home early. Rent National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation.

Dec. 16

It's the last day to choose Amazon's free Super Saving shipping and get delivery by Christmas Eve.

Dec. 17

It's Free Shipping Day. Go to to see participating retailers. If you order today, you get free shipping and delivery by Christmas Eve.

Dec. 18

If you're traveling by car this week, take your vehicle in for an oil change and a basic maintenance check. Don't forget to check the tires.

Dec. 19

Gather up your family or friends for a holiday lights drive. Bring holiday music.

Dec. 20

Get those Christmas cards in the mail: Today is the post office's official cutoff day for getting First Class mail delivered by Christmas.

Dec. 21

If you're traveling this holiday, download TripIt, a free app for iPhone, Android and Blackberry that keeps all your travel details in one place. Access itineraries, flight numbers, maps and more, even offline.

Dec. 22

Yikes -- you need a centerpiece for Christmas dinner. Put some fruit in a nice glass bowl, add a couple of votives and you'll be fine.

Dec. 23

You can still get those gifts there in time. Go FedEx and choose overnight shipping, or choose UPS and opt for Next Day Air. It'll arrive on Christmas Eve.

Dec. 24

It's Christmas Eve. Put out cookies and milk for Santa.

Dec. 25

Merry Christmas! Not to rush you, but when you're ready to recycle your tree, go to You can search for "Christmas trees" and type in your ZIP code to find out how your city is handling tree disposal.