Y’know, there are a lot of things I love about my new nephew, but I think from 500 miles away, the thing I get to enjoy most about him is the excuse he provides for me to hang out in toy stores, browse the children’s sections at bookstores, and just generally indulge my innate magpie tendencies.

Take, for instance, the purchase I made on a recent trip to Kiddlestix here in Tulsa. Kiddlestix is a wonderful mom-and-pop toy store that sells a lot of educational toys. I had gone there in search of a Sea-Monkey kit, which I purchased as a belated Christmas gift for my reporters. (C’mon — admit it: You’d love it if your boss bought you some Sea-Monkeys.)

While I was picking up the Sea-Monkeys — which, for the record, hatched on Thursday and seemed to be thriving when I left the office Friday evening — I found the most gorgeous hand puppet I have ever seen.

Hand puppets are a great way to interact with babies. If they’re colorful and have shiny spots on them, so much the better. So of course I had to buy this puppet for Jamie.

Now, truth be told, I probably would have bought the puppet even if I hadn’t had a 3-week-old nephew to entertain with it. But I would have looked like a big dork, buying something like that for myself.

Same goes for the Maurice Sendak books I bought today at Borders. I was looking for something else, but of course I got sidetracked and ended up in the children’s section, where I found a great little set of tiny but complete books that included Pierre, One Was Johnny, Chicken Soup with Rice, and Alligators All Around. How could I resist? I’ll be shipping those out Monday. 🙂

I really want to buy one of these for Jamie next. Or maybethis. Or this.

I wonder if they’d give me a discount if I just called up this company and ordered one of everything they make? 🙂

Buy this CD.

My mom sent me a link to a newspaper article about one of the kids I used to babysit when I was in junior high. Jaimee Paul’s parents used to hire me to come over and hang out with Jaimee and her little sister, Kyle. (WARNING: Music starts automatically.)

They called it “babysitting,” but Jaimee is only a couple of years younger than I am, so I think I was really just there to serve as a neutral third party in case a dispute arose.

The first time I was there, one of the girls thought she heard a noise in a back bedroom. They proceeded to convince themselves that a burglar had sneaked in, so I had to go and check all the bedrooms and closets to make sure nobody was there. In retrospect, I have no idea what any of us thought I was going to do about it if somebody had come in. At the time, I might have weighed all of 85 pounds soaking wet, and I was still 15 years away from my first karate lesson … but since the doors had been locked all night and I hadn’t heard anything, I felt pretty safe in assuming (correctly, as it turned out) that the mysterious sound was just a figment of somebody’s overactive imagination.

In any case, Jaimee was very impressed that I was willing to risk tangling with an imaginary burglar on her behalf, and she decided that this act of bravery merited some combat pay. When her parents got home, she went to great lengths to tell her dad all about it at least three times, embellishing the story with each retelling, and emphasizing that this had been a really, really scary noise, and I had really risked my butt for her and Kyle.

Funny kid. Now she’s all grown up, with a fiance and a CD and a gig singing jazz in a Nashville nightclub and a lengthy resume that includes singing backup for Barry Manilow.

Go check out her Web site. And buy her album. She’s a great singer (OK, so I’m a little bit partial, but look: You can listen to sound samples on the Web site if you don’t believe me), and besides … she scored me a few extra bucks on a babysitting job one night in 1988, so I really ought to return the favor. 😉