In an effort to control the ever-increasing girth of my waistline I have become quite a salad fan.

Now, itís not that I didnít enjoy salads before, but for me a salad was mainly something you enjoy as an appetizer before that big ribeye and baked potato with loads of butter, a meal finished off with a slab of chocolate cake.

However, recent newsworthy events of revolutionary activities along my equator have necessitated an in-depth study of salads. Now, I am not a believer in radical diets. I do not think that I can safely lose a dozen pounds in a week. I am of the opinion that I inflated this spare tire of mine gradually, I need to deflate it just as gradually. I am not perfect. I fail miserably at times. We all go to lunch, the Banner crew, and I am quite eager to sink my teeth into a large chefís salad. But the lunch special of the day is something like lasagna and when the waitress asks, "What can I get you, sir?" my mouth opens and my lips make the words chefís salad but a voice that sounds auspiciously like Dom Deluise reverberates "Lasagna, please!" Itís a frightening experience, really.

I saw that Mickey-Dees was featuring these "fruit and walnut" salads and thought that was pretty clever so I got one. I was disappointed to learn that these salads have no lettuce, carrots, purple cabbage or anything else, itís just what it says, "fruit and walnut." The dressing was also yogurt. Yogurt Ė letís be very clear on this, friends and neighbors Ė is many thingsÖit is not a salad dressing. But since this wasnít a salad, I guess thatís appropriate.

So I went to the grocery store and decided I would do it right even if Mickey-Dees couldnít. Hereís what I bought: Romaine and iceberg lettuce with carrots and purple cabbage; apples; walnuts (Have you priced pecans since the hurricanes???); pear halves and pineapple chunks in juice, not syrup; raisins; grapes; strawberries, and ranch dressing. I put all this together in a stainless steel salad bowl with a bit of cubed baked chicken and cheddar cheese (sharp, always sharp!) . Youíll note that there are no tomatoes in my salad. Unless I grow them myself, Iíd as soon not bother with store-bought tomatoes. Iíd as soon eat a baseball.

But as far as my salad, man, I gotta tell youÖthat was some good, yeah, cher!

But hereís some observations I made about salads. It really isnít the salad that helps you to lose weight, so far as the caloric or fat or carbohydrate value therein. Itís the effort. I mean, unless youíre eating a basic salad with just lettuce, you have work at that puppy to keep it right, because gravity is always working against you. If you do not constantly stir at it while eating it, the salad ends up like this, in precisely this order from top to bottom: Lettuce, fruit chunks (largest first) chicken cubes, cheddar cubes, slivers of carrot and purple cabbage, grapes, raisins, lastly the walnuts. Precisely that order, because the lightest stuff stays at the top based on bulk, the smallest stuff falls to the bottom based on tiny sizedness, and the bulky stuff kinda suspends in the middle. I learned in geology class in college that this is also how sedimentary layers accumulate in soil and rock strata. Geologists, therefore, probably are salad fans.

Like I said, I donít believe in radical diets. I donít think diets are good that begin, "First, buy two dozen crates of grapefruit." I did not, as mentioned, go on a chocolate, cream cheese, cordial cherry and Double Rocky Road ice cream binge for 30 days to acquire these extra pounds, I do not expect to go on a tofu and sesame seed diet for a month to lose them. Gradualís the word here, up the ladder and down.

I was pretty much doomed to gain a little extra cargo this year, really. I mean, I quit smoking and joined the nefarious "over 40" crowd all in the same year. My greatest fear is that, if itís true that the camera really adds ten pounds to you, Iíll look like Iím capsizing the boat when my television appearance on Fly Fishing America airs in the spring.

Usually Iím not interested in numbers when it comes to weight. Iím interested in how my clothes fit, how hard it is to tie my shoes (very hard at the moment!) and things like that. I am not really worried, usually, about bathroom scales, but just for grins and giggles a couple weeks ago I stepped onto one. Morbid curiosity, I guess. Like rubber-necking at a wreck with fatalities. Like watching CSI.

Iím not telling you what the little numbers said, no matter how much chocolate cheese cake you bribe me with. Letís just say that I cussed that poor little bathroom scale like a dawg, ya folla? It was such a loud and ceaseless tirade of emphatic disagreement the cat hid under the sofa and didnít come out until nightfall. My fig tree shed all its leaves during my hissy fit, and that was before the first cold snap. Paint peeled from my walls, crown molding snapped loose Ė well, you get the idea. I was not a happy puppy.

"Terrific," I said to my girl after the explosion was over. "I quit smoking, saved myself from lung implosion and now will expire from cardiac over-expectation. Iím doomed."

But thatís when I decided to get on with a gradual decline back toward some semblance of what I call "neither too much nor too little" so far as physique goes. I am, of course, doing this smack dab in the middle of the two most indulgent holidays on our calendar. I never was good at timing.

Meanwhile, you may recall that I told you I always believed Patches, my calico kitty, was descended from a lineage of mountain lions. Some scientists believe you can tell where domesticated cats originated from by their behavior: If they like high places, they were probably mountain lion-stock that liked cliffs and ledges. If they like low places, they were probably tundra or savannah sabre-toothed tigers, etc.

Patches is certainly of high-altitude stock, because she has found that my tummy is the perfect place to perch aloft and take a nap.