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new neighbors

WELCOME When moving into a new house, a warm reception from new neighbors makes all the difference. (Illustration:

Years ago, a week or so after I had moved into a new home, I was sitting in the back yard with a friend visiting from my old street, watching our toddlers play in the sprinklers. I remember hearing my side gate open, and into the back yard walked my now-longtime friend Robin Roth. We had children the same age, and she lived a few blocks away in my new neighborhood – West U. Robin had come with a welcome cake, what I remember as a pistachio-chocolate bundt. That memory might be off a bit, but here’s what’s not: Robin, who I really didn’t know too well at the time, made the effort to bake a cake and drive over, just to say, “Welcome to the neighborhood.” It’s something I’ve never forgotten.

Whether it’s a bundt or cookies or just a note, welcoming gestures from new neighbors make a new street feel so much more like home. Tevia McLaren, who lives with her husband and two teenaged boys, often plays the role of welcoming neighbor. “There is a rental house across the street from us,” she says. “Tenants are usually executives and their families who are here for a year or two. When we see the trucks arriving on moving day, we take [the new neighbors] cups of strong coffee, with sides of milk and various sweeteners. We use Styrofoam cups – not ecologically sound, but they can wash and reuse them until their kitchen is unpacked. Who doesn’t need a cup of coffee on move-in day?”

Kate Lykes, a mom of four children, is always up for a party, and her neighborly advice follows suit. “Host a block party!” she says. “It’s such a fun way to meet and connect with neighbors. Block off the street for the kiddos and go pot luck.”

For something lower-key but still sweet, Rebecca Starr, director of advancement at The Emery/Weiner School, says to give new neighbors seeds they can grow in their new garden. “Be sure they’re area-specific,” she says.

Another great idea: “When I meet new people in the ’hood,” says one West University mom of three, “I always give them a list of our favorite restaurants (manners expert Emily Post adds the thought of delivering several takeout menus from nearby restaurants), doctors, dentists, hair stylists and more. This is especially helpful for new neighbors who are new to Houston.”

What if they’re not only new to Houston, but also new to the States? That’s not far-fetched, considering Houston is the country’s most racially and ethnically diverse city, having surpassed New York in 2010, according to sociology professor Stephen Klineberg’s study at Rice University’s Kinder Institute for Urban Research. How can we make these true newcomers feel at home with more than traditional southern charm? Knowing a bit about international traditions might spark some ideas.

If they’re German, know that acorns – symbols of the revered oak tree – are known to protect against evil spirits. And roosters also are thought to keep trespassers out. For gifts, think small figurines of acorns or roosters, or even ceramic bakeware adorned with the motifs. For neighbors hailing from India, bring flowers and fruit. From Italy? Tradition calls for a broom to sweep away the old (evil spirits included) and make space for the new. If they’re from France, they’ll appreciate a selection of cheeses and cured meats – Tiny Boxwood’s French Picnic (packaged to go) would be perfect. For Mexican neighbors, white flowers are a good choice, but don’t bring red (might cast spells), yellow (symbolizes death) or purple (symbolizes funerals).

If you’ve got Japanese neighbors moving in, don’t be surprised if they give you a gift. It’s customary for them to bring hand towels or cookies to surrounding neighbors.

For new neighbors who are Jewish, tradition calls for a housewarming gift of a loaf of bread, a box of salt and a bag of sugar. “So the house may never know hunger, so that life will always have flavor and so that life will always be sweet.”

Other symbolic gifts include honey for a sweet home, coins for good fortune, wine for good cheer and candles for light in the new home. Bringing new neighbors a basket filled with a combination of these is sure to make them feel welcome.

And back to our Buzz readers’ neighborly advice, here is this from Nancy Beck, who we can always count on to bring humor to any situation. Her suggestion? “A big bag of nuts with a card that says, ‘Are you nuts to move here?’”

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