Julie Wurth is a reporter covering the University of Illinois at The News-Gazette. Her email is, and you can follow her on Twitter (@jawurth).

AWTY Christmas presents

The somewhat equivalent piles of presents under the tree on Christmas morning 2019.

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You know those holiday recipes that you’ve made so often you don’t have to check the ingredient list while shopping?

And then you wake up on Christmas morning, bleary-eyed from a late night of wrapping and comparing present totals and scrounging up the right tissue paper to match your bargain gift bags and hunting for that very first present you bought weeks ago, when you swore you were going to get done early this year?

And you get out all the ingredients for the cheesecake you’ve promised to make for the family Christmas dinner, only to find that one of the cream cheese packages is half-gone because your college student is home and you forgot to put the “Warning, warning do not eat!” label on the box?

And, knowing no grocery stores are open on Christmas, you cross your fingers and call a Circle K to ask if they just might have cream cheese, only to get a sad “no”?

So you desperately Google “substitutes for cream cheese,” hoping against hope that the Ricotta you bought for a lasagna you never made might work?

And you rejoice to find that, in fact, Ricotta works just fine for baked goods, but your joy is short-lived because you look at the recipe card and find that you ALSO FORGOT THE SOUR CREAM?

And, as you loudly chastise your past self for grocery-shopping arrogance, your husband comes downstairs to witness this baking meltdown and gently suggests trying Walgreen’s?

So you call Walgreen’s, where a weary checkout clerk finally answers on the seventh ring and says they do have cream cheese, but she’s not sure about the sour cream?

And you start to explain your little miscalculation and how you hate to bother her on Christmas and she politely says, “I’ve got a line here,” so you quickly say thanks and hang up?

And you go to Walgreen’s and find, hidden behind bags of shredded cheese, both cream cheese and the elusive sour cream?

And, even though you hate that people have to work on Christmas, you silently thank this corporate chain for being open on a holiday for last-minute baking emergencies?

And you go back home and quickly put the recipe together, breaking eggs with one hand while you hold the mixer with the other, and on the fifth egg (yes, five) the shell sort of crumbles into the batter?

And, now running late, you scoop out what you can find and plunge ahead with the mixing, and miraculously recover some shell pieces at the bottom of the bowl but they don’t quite match the hole in the shell?

And you debate whether to tell your family that the cheesecake might be a little crunchy this year, but opt to wing it, and luckily it turns out perfectly and no one mentions anything about shells in the dessert?

Yes, I count that as a Christmas miracle.

But not as big a miracle as what happened before Christmas this year.

After an exhausting, all-day shopping marathon over the weekend, I had a few items to pick up after work on Monday. One was a Star Wars video game my son had seen the day before, when I was too tired to make one more stop.

I went to Big Box Store No. 1 and, after a fruitless search, hailed a sales clerk, who informed me they were out.

“But my son just saw it here yesterday,” I whined.

“Yeah, I’ve probably sold 30 since then,” he replied.

I went over to Big Box Store No. 2, which was also sold out.

I managed to find a few other gifts and, preoccupied with all the things I had to do before leaving town (including that cheesecake), I piled a few bags into my car and headed home, stopping at a gas station on the way so I wouldn’t have to worry about it on Christmas Eve.

I pulled in and looked around for my purse. Not on the front seat. Not on the floor. Not in the back seat.

Figuring I left it with the packages in the back, I flung open the hatchback. The emptiness of the trunk stared back at me. I had a sudden vision of it sitting in the cart I’d left in the parking lot. With my wallet, credit cards, phone and passport, which I’d needed to fill out a form.

In full panic mode, I jumped back in the car, saying several nonsensical prayers, invoking the Christmas spirit and wondering who the patron saint is for purses left in parking lots (Does St. Anthony cover that?).

I zoomed into the lot, only to see a shopper pushing a cart back into the corral with my purse on the seat.

I rolled down the window and said, “That’s my purse!” She walked over and handed it to me and said, “Thank goodness, I was just about to take it inside.”

This Good Samaritan had been knocking on car doors, trying to find the right owner. Thankfully, no one had claimed it.

I said, “You’re a Christmas angel! Can I give you something for your trouble?” She patted my arm and said, “Just say Merry Christmas.”

So I did. I pulled away, feeling I should have insisted on giving her something.

I hope she reads this. And I hope your holiday misadventures end in miracles, too.

Julie Wurth is a reporter and columnist at The News-Gazette. Contact her at or follow her on Twitter (@jawurth).