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Designated Shopper

12/20/07 5:55PM By Helen Labun Jordan
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(HOST) Commentator Helen Labun Jordan is a marketing specialist for the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, and she's finding that her knowledge of local products is coming in very handy this year.

(LABUN JORDAN) This holiday season is a first in my family - the first we've spent with babies since the time my generation was born. In the last year, we welcomed two nieces on my husband's side, introducing us to the system of playing with cute babies while avoiding any responsibility that might go along with them. And presents. It's the first time we get to go shopping for baby presents.

Baby presents are a second chance for me. In pre-baby years, my gifts didn't always meet with approval. While my in-laws appreciate Vermont as a nice place to go skiing, they suspect us of certain unwise habits. The unpasteurized cider from a local farm was soundly rejected. Artistic works like the Men of Maple Corner and Local Exposure calendars went unviewed. Vermonters' taste came into question for behavior like buying coffee at random coffeeshops instead of enjoying the consistency of a national chain. Or adding spelt flour to recipes where only all-purpose had gone before. I see gift giving as a chance to educate others about Vermont's superior culture; others disagree.

This year, though, my home state has one undeniable advantage - Vermont is not China.

As soon as the toy recalls began to flood in, I was transformed into my family's designated holiday shopper because no matter what you think about Vermont, we are not known for toxic toy parts. My interest in very smelly goat cheese could be forgiven if I produced wholesome gifts that embodied the Norman Rockwell side of life in the Green Mountain state.

Traveling through the snow in search of wholesome gifts I felt like a younger, female version of Santa Claus.

In return for my efforts, I figured I could pick and choose my parts of the holiday celebrations . . . sure, I'd show up for a plate of cookies like Santa might, but I would disappear while others sang endless rounds of "Old MacDonald" to make crying babies smile for holiday photos. People would remember only the presents I'd brought.

But it's hard work being a cultural ambassador from Vermont, even if you grew up here. Choosing the right gift is a real challenge. You don't just worry about whether someone will *like* a gift, you also worry about whether it has a sufficiently distinctive Green Mountain flair. And it's easy to lose that focus in the world of baby toys - all those bright colors, jingling bells, fuzzy material, and bold patterns can be very distracting. . .. so distracting, in fact, that at some point during my toy buying frenzy I forgot about reading the tags. Half the toys I brought home were made in China.

But luckily, I've got a few more days left before Christmas. . . plenty of time to work on perfecting my suddenly-in-demand shopping skills, and spreading a little Vermont holiday cheer to my family and into the new generation.

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