Joke Title: Cup of Friendship Becomes Kitchen Quandary
Last year, the 14-year-old son of a friend had a baby. More accurately, he had a 10-pound sack of rice, right off the grocery store shelf, that he swaddled in a worn, blue blanket. He wasnít supposed to let the precious bundle out of his sight for a couple of weeks.

It was a school project, a lesson in responsibility. And a lesson between the lines in the perils of becoming a teen-age parent.

You think taking care of a sack of rice is hard? Try a real baby. That's what the school wanted to get across. Ha! Our public schools should wise up. Throw out the rice babies. Give the kids some Amish Friendship Bread Starter! Then the kids would learn responsibility. With a capital R. Real Fast! I'm three times the age of my friendís son, and I still had some learning to do.

Another friend thrust a cup of the bread starter into my arms as I left his house the other day. He shoved a piece of paper in my pocket. "It's Day Six," was all he said as he and his family waved goodbye. I could see them smiling knowingly in the rearview mirror. I was the recipient of a bread-starter version of the chain letter. My "baby" was given to me in an old plastic salsa container.

DAY SIX. The instructions, listing Day One through Day 10, said that was the day I was to add to the starter a cup of milk, a cup of sugar and a cup of flour and to mix well.

Great. I got home late. The milk in the refrigerator -- barely a cup left -- was at the high end of its expiration date. I had just a cup of sugar. And, well, less than a cup of flour. But I was darned if I was going to go to the store when all I wanted to do was go to bed. I dumped in what I had, mixed it up in a glass bowl and covered it with a dishtowel. That would have to do.

I liked Day Seven . It said to do nothing. All I had to do on Day Eight was stir the stuff. On Day Nine I was to do nothing again.

The peace ended on Day Ten though. I had to add more milk, sugar and flour. I had to stir. Then I was to take out three one-cup measurements and give two cups to two friends, saving a cup for myself.

To the rest, I was to add a whole bunch of other stuff and bake some bread. Only trouble was, I hadn't gone to the store, and I had been out of milk, sugar and flour since Day Six. Day Ten came and went. So did Day Eleven.

The actual culmination of the Amish Friendship Bread into edible form -- two beautiful, brown-topped loaves -- came on Day Twelve, with no bad consequences. In fact, the stuff was pretty good. And good it should have been. After all, it took five days longer to make than the whole world