Glitter my world


Escape into a shiny happy village

By Ellen Margulies

See this tiny pink and purple house? That’s where I live.

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This is how my real house should look. /Photo by Ellen Margulies


It is actually a model replica of my real, non-glittered house which has touches of purple on the door and window trim but is not, sadly, a glitzy pink house. Not sure how my neighbors would feel about that anyway, but it’s the sort of thing that would make my heart go pitter-pat. There’s even a little cat silhouette in the window.

My sister Karen made it, as she has turned out to be quite the tiny architect, or architect of tiny homes at least, in her spare time. What started out as a yuletide craft project and sister-bonding time a couple of Christmases ago turned out to be a kind of a fail for me but has morphed into a seasonal obsession for Karen. I did attempt a couple of houses in the beginning, but there are some foundation-buckling issues and for someone who is not good at cutting or drawing a straight line, ehrm, well, let’s just say the exacting window-work made me cuss.

We were inspired by the German-American putz houses (which by the 1960s were made in Japan, of course) that decorated our Christmas tree growing up. We always loved those tiny, shiny houses, and we rediscovered, around the same time in the Age of Pinterest, that people were making their own. Karen may claim she stumbled upon them first, and that’s fine because she’s SO GOOD at making them that I’m going to let her have that one. After I gave up, Karen kept going. She’s made models of my parents’ home, her home, friends’ homes and a variety of schools, churches and mid-century modern stuff. She loves it, and who am I to discourage anyone from gifting me with handmade glittered awesomeness?

Fences, stepping stones, vellum window panes and hand-glittered trees give life to your little houses. / Photos by Ellen Margulies

You can find really great templates online here, here and here as well as all over the aforementioned Pinterest, dozens on Karen’s and my shared board alone. I gave up on all but the aesthetic touches, but Karen has learned a lot of tips and tricks along the way, which she agreed to share with you, our 9.75 million blog readers (that’s just an estimate; margin of error is plus/minus 9.75 million…).
Here are Karen’s tips if you’d like to attempt your own Putz house:

20151114_185211The right tools are a must. You’ll need a good straight edge, possibly one with circles for detail work; a very sharp utility knife for which you should change the blades frequently, especially when doing detail work; a metal ruler; and a self-healing cutting mat.

When you download your templates, trace them onto good, heavy paper like Strathmore Bristol. Some people say to build these houses out of cereal boxes. We tried this at first, but the cardboard is a bit shoddy and tends to bow and buckle when glued. You’re going to be happier using card stock or heavy paper.

Avoid spray adhesive; that stuff goes everywhere. Ailene’s Tacky Glue works well, but you can use any white glue that dries clear.

When you first glue the house together (before glittering, btw), you will have to hold the house together for a few minutes with a clothespin, paper clip or document clip. When it comes to roofs, you may have to just hold it on by hand.

Here’s how your workflow should look: cut, paint, put vellum in windows with double-sided roller tape, assemble walls, then apply roof. Once everything is dry and all embellishments like shutters are on, then glue to base.

Gluing the house to the base is the last step. To mount your house on a base, run a bead of glue along the edges of the house, and press down gently. You’ll want to hold it there for a minute or two.

To decide base size, which is often not included in the template, figure out what you want on it. A fence? Go a bit larger. A tree or two? See how far they should be from the house. Use common sense and plan your yard beforehand.

Heavy-duty art board works best for a base; it’s a bit thicker than poster board. Cut the size you want, then take a piece of glitter paper (you can buy it by the sheet, and these also make fun roofs), cut it the same size as your base board and attach it with a generous amount of glue. Sign the bottom of your piece before attaching the house.

You can buy bare trees and glitter them yourself. Pre-packaged wreaths tend to be the wrong scale, so you can cut them down to size by snipping it near the top center and squeezing it into a smaller ring. A bit of glue or bow re-positioning will do wonders.

Be smart: Glitter over folded paper so you can funnel unused glitter back into the bottle.

20151114_185141Patience, patience, patience. Mishaps happen. You may get hangers when you try to cut a window frame, or paste your roof on wonky. Take a deep breath. Re-cut your windows; take the roof off and re-glue it to your liking.

When you assemble your house, don’t strive for perfection. Most of us will end up with imperfections, and that’s ok; just enjoy what you do.


You know you want to stroll through my glitter village. / Photo by Ellen Margulies

We hope you’ve enjoyed our 12 Days of Christmas creativity blogs. We’ll be back again next week, and every week after that, with something new to kick your creative tendencies into gear!







Small budget, big impact


9 cheap ideas and 3 for Oprah

By Ellen Margulies

We’ve had an actual reader request! I’m very excited about this. L.P. (not her real name) writes, “How can I decorate my small condo for Christmas on a very tight budget?” Glad you asked, L.P.

There’s been many a Christmas when I had next to nothing to scrape together, so I’ve learned a few things about decking halls with found objects and such. It helps if you’re a pack rat who never throws anything away, but even if you’re not, there’s hope.

Here are several ways to jolly up your house without breaking the bank:


$10 or less

  • Christmas brooches are often on sale this time of year. Pin one to a solid-color throw pillow (just remember not to nap on that one) or a curtain tie-back. You can use a big cocktail ring the same way.
Pillow fabulousness / by Ellen Margulies
  • Make your own greenery swag: A few errant branches off a pine tree (ask a neighbor or friend if you don’t have one in your yard), thin enough to cut with scissors. Pretend you’re gathering a bouquet of flowers to get a good guideline on lengths. Bundle together at the top with a festive bow in your favorite Christmas color and attach it to your door or hang it over a mirror or mantle.
  • Assorted bits of Christmas greenery arranged in a vase with a few holiday floral picks can cheer up any little corner.


$5 or less

My dream car, although I will really have to lose a lot of weight to drive this. / by Ellen Margulies
  • Being a big fan of using what you’ve got, I sometimes create little Christmas tableaux around the house. I got this 1967 Mustang as a joke one Christmas because I put it on my list. It lives on my bookcase year round, and at Christmas time, I tie a little Christmas tree on top with a piece of baker’s twine. A package of a half-dozen 3-inch trees is $1.99 at your local craft store.
  • Buy a plain white, red or green coffee mug at Target or similar, fill with King Leo peppermint sticks.
  • candy dish
    Mom gave me this dish, I SWEAR. / by Ellen Margulies

    Speaking of candy, they have these Santa hat Hershey’s kisses at Target, but even the green and red wrappers would be nice. Choose a pretty glass bowl or your favorite candy dish that you remember from childhood that you may or may not have wheedled your mother into giving you. Fill ‘er up, perch on a shelf.  




  • Take a walk in the yard, a nearby park or some woods on the side of the road. This time of year you can find some really beautiful things if you look hard enough. Dried winter grasses, peeling birch bark
  • Wrapping-paper scraps can be used to wrap wine bottles, picture frames or other objects you have on hand. Finish off with a bit of twine or cut out a Christmas tree shape from a paper bag and tape to the wrapped object. Voila, instant Christmas!
  • String fishing line, kitchen twine or similar across the top of a doorway or windowsill. Tie Christmas ornaments to varying lengths of ribbon or use hooks to  hand straight across. 

So you see, reader L.P., with just a little bit of imagination and ingenuity, you can brighten up your house and get it ready for Santa. Of course, I was assuming by “tight budget,” you meant $10 and under. Obviously, you can adjust your decorating scheme to fit whatever “tight budget” means to you.

So, if your budget is Oprah-tight, you might consider:

  • Blue fur pom pom ornament from Harrod’s, for about $75 U.S.
  • Balsam Hill 9-foot noble fir, for a mere $1,299
  • A gingerbread house custom-baked to look like your home, adorned with 150 mm South Sea pearls and a 5-carat Mozambique ruby from luxury online retailer Very First To. It will set you back nearly $78,000 but is surely worth it.

lux xmas

Happy decorating!

A gift to remember


Surprise balls are as fun to make as they are to get, probably

By Ellen Margulies

For a while there, a small spiky dinosaur was at an undisclosed location somewhere inside my house. This did not bode well for my tender feet, the cat who had absconded with it and my nephew’s Christmas surprise, which was intended to include a pair of battle dinosaurs. I mean, how can a guy be expected to wage an awesome battle with only one freaking dinosaur?

That’s the kind of chance you’ll take when you wrap up dollar-store toys, candies and whatnot in a couple hundred feet of crepe paper when there are felines around. I was in the midst of creating these softball-sized presents for my 6- and 4-year-old niece and nephew when suddenly, out of nowhere, dino attack!

This is why we can’t have nice things. /Photo by Ellen Margulies

I’m happy to report that the dino was ultimately located without injury and subsequently wrapped in my nephew’s surprise package, although I fear a small finger light is still at large. It’s also possibly wrapped up in my niece’s surprise ball; when you’re dealing with that many moving parts, it can be difficult to keep track.

A few of these were edited out because I didn’t want to send watermelon-sized surprise balls. 

Nola and William, my brother’s kids, live overseas, and I don’t get to see them very much (which sucks). The idea behind the surprise balls is to give them a fun experience when they open presents. They may not remember the toys inside (God knows I don’t), but I’m hoping they’ll always recall their Auntie Ellen going to all this trouble to find presents and candy and wrap them painstakingly in ribbon, crepe paper, raffia or sometimes all three. They start unwrapping, and every few feet, a new surprise is revealed. They’re really fun to make, and I bet they’re really fun to get! Here’s what my finished product looks like:


You can customize these any way you like, obviously. The most important element is to strategize before you start wrapping. I always decide on a core present first. It should ideally be no more than 3 inches square when you’re shooting for a softball-sized surprise ball. You’ll want to start with your biggest couple of items first, then start sizing down. Aaaand then back up again if needed.

Candies should be chosen based on tinyness, so you can wrap them in plastic wrap and cup them around the ball shape. Think M&Ms, gummies, Sixlets, jelly beans. (Stickers also work well in the wrap-around, as do window clings.) I’ve used bulky candies in the past, but as you can imagine, a Hershey’s kiss placed near the end or top of the surprise ball can take yards and yards to cover, because you really don’t want to send a surprise ball with a nipple on it to a 6-year-old. Nobody has the money for that kind of therapy. Also, you have to get the ball back into spherical shape every time you wrap an item. Weirdly, when the ball starts getting to be about the size of a baseball, you can start adding back bigger items like lip balms, if they’re flat enough.

Single-layer those candies so you can flex them around the ball. Might have to test a couple of quality control purposes, of course. 

These have to be shipped overseas, so I try to be careful about what’s included in them. And if you’re giving these to the tiny people in your life, you may want to include a list and any pertinent instructions for the parental overlords. You don’t want things to be TOO surprising. For this package, for instance, I will alert my brother and sister-in-law that the dinos come with a bunch of battle accessories like shields and helmets; Nola is getting a fistful of stick-on earrings and rings; both kids got two window clings each (a total of four parts) that may sort of look like gummy candy but are NOT gummy candy; each got a grow-in-water critter (William got a polar bear and Nola got a snowman, which I belatedly realize as I’m writing this should have been the other way around, because when Nola was a baby my mother called her Nola-bear polar bear. Ah, hindsight. I’m sure a tiny fist-fight will break out.). Said critters could take up to 10 DAYS to grow to full size; would NOT have known that without the instructions. They’re also reusable. Weird.

grow a snowman

The surprise balls include roughly equivalent packages of M&Ms and Iddy Biddy Santas (these are a real thing), and roughly equivalent numbers of toys/treats. William had a lot of dino battle armor (God I hope the kid likes dinosaurs), so I sprinkled Nola’s package with an equal-ish number of star-shaped hair clips. Sibling rivalry, peeps: The struggle is REAL.

They both also got a pair of socks. In my defense, they’re CUTE — hers are Frozen, his are Cars — and I really needed them to sphericalize the spiky dino at the core of William’s surprise. I’m hoping they like them. If not, I won’t be remembered as the cool and awesome auntie who shipped them surprise balls full of treats every Christmas; I’ll be remembered as the lame old lady who sent them stoopid socks.

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Would you want to step on this at 3 a.m.?

Ok. Now, here’s how you can make your own.

Surprise Ball

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This is about 60 feet of crepe paper.

(Surprise — all this stuff makes just 1 ball! That’s why the dollar store is your friend.)

Materials & tools:

—5-6 toys no bigger than the palm of your hand. Think Matchbox minis, little-girl nail polish, sticky notes, earbuds, temporary tattoos, and so on.

—Small candies

—80-100 feet of crepe paper, raffia or other ribbon. Aim for too much, always!

—Tissue paper in case you need to sphericalize any odd-shaped treats



—Daniel Craig movie or similar playing in the background

—Possible ninja to keep cats at bay


  1. Take everything out of the packaging and arrange it according to size. You may have to edit as you go along. Choose your core item first. Think about how the treats will be unwrapped — you want a big finish!
  2. Cut squares of press-and-seal or plastic wrap and arrange small candies in a single layer. Wrap tightly and seal all edges. These candy packages should also fit in the palm of your hand.
  3. Start snugly wrapping your core item, randomly changing the direction of the ribbon as you go until you can no longer see the item. Go to your next bulky item, place it on the largest surface area and continue wrapping the same way.
  4. Intersperse with candies every few presents. These wrap neatly around your in-progress surprise ball and are great for evening out the inevitable lopsidedness that will occur unless you’re some kind of surprise-ball savant.
  5. If you want to switch up ribbon colors or types, simply tape it off to secure the ball and start a new wrap (no need for tape when you start wrapping again). I’ve been known to use 7 or 8 different ribbons for my niece’s present, which she could then repurpose as hair ribbons.
  6. When you’ve added everything, adjusting to make the ball as ball-shaped as possible as you go, tape off the ribbon or secure it with a sticker or bow (just make sure the adhesive is ON THERE — nothing is sadder than an unraveled surprise ball).

Assorted hints:

— It’s a good idea to document the present list in some way, either with a photo or a list, and make sure you take note of any special instructions.

— Your ribbon or crepe paper or raffia is going to twist up on you. Or your damn cat is going to grab an end of the raffia and go tearing down the hall like a rabid Saint Bernard, not that that’s ever happened to me. Just breathe. This is why God invented scissors and tape. Snip it, tape it, and start wrapping again.

— Please do not wrap live animals. Hamsters can suffocate, and you wouldn’t believe how expensive it is to wrap a horse in crepe paper.