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Did you win a spelling bee?
Did you win a spelling bee?

Are spelling tests stupid?

Every week, my kid -- who is in second grade -- has five spelling words to learn. We have numerous strategies to learn them, from flash cards to Scrabble tiles, but it turns out, spelling is not one of his strong points. He continues to spell words phonetically, and often whines about the purpose of silent letters or the fact that computers fix your mistakes anyway. (How does he know that?)

As a writer, I believe learning to spell is important. To me, it’s an important skill that makes one sensitive to words and language. Plus, computers make mistakes, too, and do not catch all spelling errors, especially when a word is misspelled in the form of another word. (Doh, I hate when that happens!)

Also, a few years ago, I emceed two adult spelling bees for, and people came out in droves for the love of the spell.

All of that said, now that I spend hours a week grilling my kid on spelling words, I am questioning whether or not it’s really necessary to spend this much time on it. I take education very seriously, but I am from the "let kids be kids" camp. I believe seven hours of learning is enough for one day and homework for a second grader should be minimal to none.

However, even though I’m on the fence about spelling tests, whenever I start to think that they are a complete waste of time, I remember Dan Quayle’s famous "potato" debacle -- or Barack Obama’s inability to differentiate between "advise" and "advice" -- and I keep quizzing.

Roots is open for Sunday brunch, too.
Roots is open for Sunday brunch, too.

Rapid review: Roots Restaurant & Cellar

October is the third annual Dining Month on All month, we're stuffed with restaurant reviews, delicious features, chef profiles, unique articles on everything food, as well as the winners of our "Best of Dining 2009."

Roots Restaurant & Cellar
1818 N. Hubbard St., (414) 374-8480

Roots  makes all of its food from scratch and with seasonal ingredients. The owners are passionate supporters of sustainable agriculture and aquaculture, so all of the meats are naturally raised and the fish is sashimi grade, wild caught, flown in whole and filleted on site. Plus, most of the vegetables are locally grown.

Roots has a full bar featuring a good wine selection, and upon request will modify dishes to accommodate vegetarians. A couple of vegetarian dishes, including the praised tempura tofu, ($18), are on the menu.

Menu: Upscale American.

Price: Moderate.

When to go: Roots is no longer open for lunch, so evening is the time to go. Sunday brunch is served, too.

Dress: Casual is acceptable, but feel free to spruce up for a Roots experience. The well-dressed will feel comfortable here, too.

Don't miss: The amazing view of Downtown. Take a moment to gaze, even if your table is not near the massive windows.

Parking: Street parking is the only option, but it's not usually a problem because Roots is located in a quiet neighborhood.

My Day of the Dead altar. We have multiple hamsters to honor this year. RIP rodents.
My Day of the Dead altar. We have multiple hamsters to honor this year. RIP rodents.

Build an altar for Day of the Dead

Day of the Dead (Dia de los Muertos) is a Mexican holiday, celebrated Nov. 1 and 2, and it’s a time to honor the deceased. For the past few years, I created a Day of the Dead altar with my kids as a way to remember my four grandparents, none of whom my kids ever got to meet.

I took a small table, placed a box on top of it and covered the whole structure with a cloth so it has two tiers. Then, I decorated it with candles to represent faith and to help the spirits find their way, gourds, flowers (marigolds are traditionally used but any fall flower looks nice and reminds us of the impermanence of life), a glass of water that is said to quench the spirits’ thirst and serve as a symbol of purity, and photos.

I bought all of the items for my altar at El Rey, 1023 S. Cesar E. Chavez Dr., and Pueblo Supermarket, 2029 N. Holton St.

This year, we added the collar of our recently deceased dog, Clay, and my 6-year-old son wrote the names of the hamsters we lost on little slips of paper and added them to the altar: Lavender, Lavender 2, Cinnamon and Ginger. (It was a rough year for rodents in the ol’ Edler household.)

Also, I’ve seen altars adorned with bottles of tequila to offer the spirits a drink and /or a bar of soap for them to wash. Fruit and bread are commonly placed on the altar, too.

Some say the "veil" between the living and the dead disappears during this time of year, so the chance of communicating with the dead is more likely. Who knows, but if you don't have a Ouija board handy, you might want to build an altar and see if it’s true.

Rip Tide has a "crab shack" vibe.
Rip Tide has a "crab shack" vibe.

Rapid review: Rip Tide Seafood Bar & Grill

October is the third annual Dining Month on All month, we're stuffed with restaurant reviews, delicious features, chef profiles, unique articles on everything food, as well as the winners of our "Best of Dining 2009."

Rip Tide Seafood Bar & Grill
649 E. Erie St., (414) 271-8433

Rip Tide Seafood Bar & Grill offers, you guessed it, all of the water-based edibles, including salmon, crab, lobster, shrimp and more.

The Third Ward restaurant is located on Milwaukee's "inner harbor" and features a large deck that accommodates up to 130 people.

During the winter months, Rip Tide reduces its hours, but offers a variety of specials. Because of the lively, upbeat enviroment, Rip Tide is a kid-friendy restaurant.

Menu: Seafood.

Price: Moderate to expensive.

When to go: The outdoor seating is fantastic at Rip Tide, so going during the warm months is ideal. During the late fall and winter months, Rip Tide is closed Monday through Wednesday, but offers a Thursday night lobster special featuring a pound of lobster for $16.95.

Dress: Casual but nice.

Don’t miss: The Sunday brunch is $22.95 and features a buffet of snow crab legs, raw oysters, shrimp, crab cakes, scrambled eggs, chicken, fish, sliced meats, rice, salads,  pastries and muffins. Eggs Benedict and omelets are available to order, too.

Parking: There is a parking lot next to the building, and a second lot across the street.