12 days of Christmas

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Santa will be here before you know it. Celebrate accordingly.

1** Make a pumpkin spice latte at home. Heat two-cups milk, two-tablespoons canned pumpkin and two-tablespoons sugar until just steaming. Remove from heat. Stir in two-tablespoons vanilla and one-half-teaspoon pumpkin pie spice. Blend until foamy (about 10 seconds). Pour in mug, add espresso and enjoy.

2** Host a holiday photo booth. Cut two-dimensional seasonal accessories out of cardstock or construction paper. Affix them to wooden dowels or kebab skewers to act as a handle. Set up an area of the house as the studio, and make a banner for a backdrop if you like.

3** Start the day with Santa. Meadowbrook Manor, 339 S. 9th Ave. in La Grange, is hosting a free breakfast with Santa from 9-11 a.m. on Dec. 15. Call (708) 354-4660 to reserve your spot.

4** Send a Humane Holiday Card.
The Hinsdale Humane Society is offering sets of holiday cards featuring puppies, kittens and Santa with a shelter dog. The cards are $12 a dozen. Proceeds benefit the shelter's homeless animals. Pick them up at the Hinsdale Humane Society, 22 N. Elm St. in Hinsdale, or at participating area veterinary offices. Visit hinsdalehumanesociety.org for more information.

5** "Make the Yuletide Gay." The Chicago Gay Men's Chorus presents its annual "Make the Yuletide Gay" holiday production on Dec. 16 from 3-7:30 p.m. at Mayslake Peabody Estate, 1717 W. 31st St. in Oak Brook. Tickets are $15 to $35. Discounts are available for students and seniors. Visit www.cgmc.org.

6** Make outdoor winter gems. Fill water balloons with water and food coloring. Freeze, then cut off the balloon and place the ice "marbles" outside in a pile or line them up in a design. Keep them in the yard so you don't risk coloring your driveway.

7** Board the Polar Express. A longtime, popular holiday tradition: the Polar Express train ride with Santa is available in several Chicago suburbs. They fill up fast, but check for any last-minute spots. Franklin Park: Dec. 15, 2:30-4:45 p.m., Franklin Park Metra Station, 3148 Rose St., $10 to $16, www.fpparks.org; Burr Ridge: Dec. 16, 8:45 a.m. - 12:55 p.m., Hinsdale Metra Train Station, 21 E. Hinsdale Ave., $38 to $43, www.brparks.org; Oak Park: Dec. 16, 10 a.m. - 1 p.m., Oak Park Conservatory, 615 Garfield St., $12 to $18, www.oakparkparks.org.

8** Enjoy some secret shopping time. Can't find a babysitter for your last-minute gift-finding mission? The Park District of La Grange is offering to keep your kiddo busy in the Rec Center with songs, dancing, games and crafts for a few hours on Dec. 18 for a small fee. Ages 2-6 are welcome from noon - 3 p.m. for $15 per child. Kids must be potty-trained, however. Call Diana Faught at (708) 352-1762 or email her at dianafaught@pdlg.org to register.

9** Make a video documentary. With smartphones and Flip cams being so prevalent, making a holiday documentary is a breeze. Take small three-to-five-minute video clips throughout the season or during the holiday week. Interview family members. After the festivities are over, screen your documentary for everyone. A great project for older children and young adults.

10** Watch "Becoming Santa." This heartwarming 2011 documentary centers around Jack, who is gearing up for Santa School. This hour-and-27-minute film also gives viewers a glimpse into the business of being the iconic holiday character around the world. While it doesn't directly out Santa's secret, it may be best for girls and boys a bit older. Available to watch for free on www.hulu.com.

11** Make a snowman kit. This great DIY gift has major reusability. Make a simple scarf from polar fleece, a stovepipe hat from felt, and gather buttons to complete the snowman's ensemble. Then paint some rocks with black acrylic paint to make "coal" for the eyes and mouth, and find a faux carrot at a craft store. Place all the items in a shoebox decorated with festive paper, and add a gift tag that says, "Just add snow."

12** Go sledding. Put on your winter wear, grab that toboggan and head to the sledding hill at Prospect Park, on Chicago and Oxford Avenues, in Clarendon Hills. The hill closes at dusk, so plan ahead for maximum snow-blazing fun. Visit www.clarendonhillsparkdistrict.org for more information.