Our twins are five and I think it is important for them to learn more about good manners, but am not sure how to go about teaching them without making it a negative experience and don’t always want to be correcting them. Any advice?

The very best way to teach good manners is by example. If you are writing a thank-you note, tell them. “We had such fun at the Johnsons’ yesterday that I am writing them a note to say thank you.”  When you play a board game and just happen not to win, say, “That was fun! Good for you for winning! You made so many good moves.” Thank them when they do something thoughtful. “Thank you, Johnny! That was so nice of you.” These are great ways for your children to learn by osmosis about expressing gratitude, good sportsmanship, and consideration.  Naturally, there are specific things you will want them to learn, like table manners, but for overall lessons, your being a wonderful role model is the most meaningful.

Is it true that you can’t wear white after Labor Day?

It was the fashion rule in the early 1900s when there were dress codes for almost every occasion, but today, the real guidelines are the weather, the season, and the occasion. White wool, cashmere, and down are totally acceptable winter wear, for example, and in southern climates in the United States and tropical climates that draw vacationers, white is often the color of choice for lightweight clothing throughout most of the year. Fabric is more the determiner of what’s acceptable today than is a century-old “rule” that no longer applies.

Recently, two families from other countries moved into our neighborhood. We would like to welcome them with a gift, but have no clue what their customs are. I’ve read that certain colors of flowers mean bad luck in some cultures, and I know people can have different dietary rules, so I don’t know whether to take a bouquet, or a plate of cookies, or what to do. Is there a gift that is universally inoffensive?

While we can’t endorse websites here, we can suggest that you search for sites that explain the culture and customs of the countries from which your new neighbors have come. If white flowers signify bad luck, then you wouldn’t give them, but flowers of any other color would be fine. A helpful list of service providers and directions to critical places, such as the closest hospital, or grocery store, would be thoughtful. Since it is summer, a small basket of produce from your garden would be appreciated and likely not intrude on any dietary practices. It would be thoughtful, as well, to give them your names and telephone number and offer to help them acclimate in any way you can. A friendly welcome will mean the most, and if English is not their first language, an offer to help answer any questions would be the best gift of all.

Questions for Catherine? Send them to michaels.catherine@yahoo.com