Yvonne Conte is a former award winning sales executive. She has spent the past 22 years studying the benefits of Humor, Laughter and Joy. Today she helps fortune 500 companies create a positive corporate climate where laughter and humor is encouraged. Her clients include; Xerox, Time Warner, AT&T, G E Global and Merck Pharmaceutical. Her first book Serious Laughter sold over 50,000 copies, is printed in two languages and used in colleges to teach students how to think funny. Her first printing of Cry, Laugh Cook! has received rave reviews. Yvonne has literally laughed and cooked her way through the worst times of her life; chronic illness, divorce, complete financial ruin, loosing her home and suddenly becoming a single parent of two infants. Yvonne transformed her negative emotions into empowerment, positive action and self-determination. She now helps others examine their thoughts, behaviors and change their perspective on life. Yvonne has taken her seminars and advice to over 5,000 corporations and groups nationally. Her speaking career has taken her to 33 states and 7 countries.
She is the recipient of the Syracuse Women in Leadership Award and is an internationally recognized Stress Management Consultant, Corporate Culture Expert and Motivational Humorist who has been lecturing and writing for over 22 years on the subject of turning emotions into positive action, productivity, laughter, and joy!
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Cry, Laugh, Cook!A collection of essays, conversations, and Conte family recipes
By Yvonne F. Conte
Balboa PressCopyright © 2012 Yvonne F. Conte
All right reserved.
Chapter OneLa Famiglia (The Family)
412 Ashland Avenue
Freshly picked tomatoes magically became sauce on the stove. Billows of steam escaped from pots as men smoked cigars and laughed loudly. Various sizes of children ran through the old house and women talked about the weather. One small black and white television called out the score. Someone retrieved a pan of golden crisp chicken, carrots, and potatoes from the oven and bottles of deep red homemade wine found their way to the linen covered table. Gramma Conte's kitchen was filled with luscious sounds and aromas and always with so many people. Every one of us dressed in our best clothes. This was Sunday.
Children had to sit in the kitchen at Gramma's breakfast nook. We loved it because it was like sitting at a restaurant—four or five of us on each side all squished in together, every one of us giggling, Each with our own mopine tied around our neck. (a part of an old tablecloth or bedsheet that Gramma had stitched along the ends so it wouldn't tear, used as a napkin). Our little faces waited to be stained with tomato sauce. But we couldn't wait to finish eating and go back to the yard to play.
We could see Grampa out in the garden in his signature fedora and three-piece suit and tie. Bent over with his head buried in the greenery, he picked tender lettuce and radishes, crisp cucumbers and onions, and only the best plum tomatoes for our salad. A stick stood firmly in the ground with long strips of cord holding pie tins as hands that would hit each other, causing a ruckus and scaring the crows away.
Nothing was ever wrong at that house. Everyone was happy. There was always enough food and enough room for everyone. The uncles told jokes and everyone laughed. Most of us kids didn't know why everyone else was laughing. We laughed anyway.
Gramma always said ca bella, which I guess meant that we were beautiful in her eyes anyway. She was a real Gramma with an apron and glasses and a head full of gray hair and bobby pins that seemed to be there for no real reason at all. She had black shoes that laced up the front and thick stockings that went up to just above her knees. She was always either at the stove or the sink, it seemed. When one of my uncles would stick a piece of fresh bread in the sauce or steal a perfectly shaped meatball, she would hit him on the arm. He would laugh and she would say something in Italian as he left the room with his mouth full. Then a moment later she would call to one of my aunts and say, "Taste this!" as she handed over a spoonful of sauce. I could never understand that, and I remember how funny I thought it was.
Fresh garlic and parsley from the garden hung above the sink, and bowls of tomatoes and green peppers sat like photographs on the counter. I would give anything to go back to that kitchen once more and enjoy the sounds, tastes, and aromas of 412 Ashland Avenue.
We laughed and squealed loudly, running out of their reach as the boys chased and teased us. The spacious four-acre yard with a swing set conveniently nestled behind the three-car garage provided us with wonderful privacy as we played in the summer sun. I jumped up onto the swing set and began to walk across the bar, hand over hand, to the middle. Scott began at the opposite end and when our little faces met in the middle he kissed me! I screamed and he screamed and we jumped down off the bar and ran. We both were guilty of wiping the kiss off of our lips and making nauseous sounds. Then we all went back to the swing set to do it over again, but this time we were joined by my sister Donnarae and Scott's brother Larry. We made a game of it, lining up at one end and then the other and meeting in the middle for a kiss followed by screams, giggles, and endless running. Larry kissed Donna and Scott kissed me. It wasn't anything like I thought it would be. I had the idea that kissing a boy would somehow make me fall madly in love forever. Truthfully, I didn't feel a thing, and besides, his face was hot and sweaty and he smelled gross.
This week I worked in Wichita, Kansas. My cousin Vinny lives there with his wife Teresa and son Andrew. Because I was in town, Vinny's dad and sister, Jimmy and Stacey, drove five hours up from Texas just to see me. It didn't matter that Jimmy recently had a hip operation or that Stacey had to take time off from work to be there. They came because we're family.
We spent most of the seventy-two hours of my visit laughing and reminiscing about the old days. We have many beautiful memories of our childhood growing up in Upstate New York surrounded by a cast of characters we called The Family. Our grandfather could be found seated at his desk in the dining room with a drink in one hand and a deck of cards in the other. Dressed in a suit and tie, his shoes were shined and he never left the house without his fedora and his beautiful smile. Our grandmother was the boss of the family if truth be told. She pretty much ran the home and the family restaurant, and grandpa seemed perfectly fine with that arrangement. Her food was legendary. No matter how my poor mother tried, no one made stuffed peppers like Gramma Conte. Her home at 412 Ashland Avenue was a safe haven for all of us. It was there in the dining room that the family gathered for every birthday, anniversary, holiday, and especially for Sunday dinner. There was always enough room for everyone and the food was abundant. I never remember a cross word or a sad moment; only the sound of aunts and uncles telling stories and laughing, dishes clinking, and an army of cousins giggling around the kitchen nook.
My cousins were like sisters and brothers to me. We ran, jumped, climbed trees, and chased each other around the yard until we were hot and sweaty—all of us in our Sunday best: the boys in little suits and ties, hair neatly cut and slicked to perfection, and the girls in party dresses, lace trimmed socks, patent leather shoes, and sausage curls with ribbons. We caught lightning bugs in jars and marveled at how they flickered. We ate fresh purple grapes right off the vine, played tickle-fish and laughed until we couldn't breath. The bigger kids looked after the little kids and someone always fell and cried as their mom cleaned up the scrape and put on a Band-Aid. We never gave a thought to what a wonderful time we were fortunate to be living in.
I knew these people would always be there for me. I could count on them. I knew they loved me, if for no other reason but that we were and always would be family. I want my grandchildren to know that kind of security and love. I want to ensure that they have these kinds of memories. I want to know that one day long into the future, one of their cousins will travel five hours by car just to see them for a few hours because they're family.
True Friends and Italian Cheese
Out of the blue the phone call came. "It's Peggy! I'm coming to Syracuse!" The familiar sound of a dear friend was just as full of cheer as the thirteen-year-old I had met forty-six years before. Peggy O'Neil and I first met in 1965 at Saint Cyril's Academy for Girls in Danville, Pennsylvania, where she quickly became my best friend. Both of us were sent to the boarding school by our parents in the hopes of a better education and, in my case, a place where I might learn some discipline. We didn't get either, but we did create a bond that has remained strong through four husbands, five kids, and four grandchildren!
We hit all the hot spots in town today and reminisced about the past. We started our day at the farmers' market, picking out fresh tomatoes, cherries, grapes, salt potatoes, plums, and lemons from local growers. We sat in the sun and drank coffees and enjoyed a bite to eat at a small café. At the Italian import store we bought fresh mozzarella and a special imported vinegar to go with our ripe red tomatoes. On the way home we stopped at Columbus Bakery for fresh bread—the same bakery my father took me to every Sunday after church. We would buy three loaves of bread: two for our dinner and one to eat out of the bag on the way home. So in honor of my dad, Peggy and I bought one for dinner and pulled the fresh, soft, still warm bread from the second bag and ate it with much delight. Next stop: the Italian deli next door for some unbelievably delicious smoked provolone! Yum! Just smelling the aroma of these priceless Italian specialties brings me back to my childhood when things seemed simpler, life was to be enjoyed, and Peggy and I giggled in the last row of room 416 in Sr. Mary Paul's Latin class.
Peggy and I have had a wonderful visit, reminiscing and visiting with friends and family. We've laughed a lot. There's something absolutely comforting about connecting with long-time friends. They know you. They know your heart. It's almost as if they are a part of your soul, the very fabric of who you are. Make it a point to visit with old friends. Take that trip, make the call, and reconnect. Just do it. You'll be so glad you did.
In 1965 we were two mischievous little thrill seekers and we drove our poor parents crazy. Today Peggy is the mayor of Deerfield Beach, Florida, and I'm a keynote speaker and author. (Side note to parents of unruly children: It all works out in the end!)
Grateful Lessons Learned
I wouldn't call myself a disobedient child, but in our family there were three little darling young ladies and one spirited, often devilish little girl. No matter how naughty I was, Daddy never hit me. He couldn't. His swollen arthritic hands carried too much pain; it really would have "hurt him, more than it did me." Instead, he taught me that when you do good things, good things happen to you.
"Turn that TV off and get these beds made up." He only said it once. I could hear his footsteps above my head as my hero Popeye saved his sweetheart Olive from the horrible Brutus once again. "Yuk yuk yuk yuk yuk ..." I loved the way that skinny character laughed. My giggles were soon the only sounds I could hear and my bed lay crumpled and unmade.
Daddy decided to take us girls to Shopping town in Dewitt later that afternoon. He handed each of my sisters a crisp new $20 bill, just for being good. My sisters didn't seem to notice the door of the car as it closed with me still inside. He simply said, "Vonnie, I need you to stay with me today." I sat alone in that big back seat and watched my sisters' smiling faces disappear into Dey Brothers Department Store as we pulled away from the curb. I felt so left out.
Later that night Daddy called my older sister Donnarae to his knee. With a little squeeze and a wet kiss on her cheek, he proudly said, "I've got the most beautiful four daughters in the whole world." The daughter adored walked away a princess while I wore the face of deep sorrow. I knew I had disappointed him that morning. Just knowing that was my punishment.
The very next day, I couldn't wait to get out of bed so I could smooth the covers and fluff the pillows. With every wrinkle smoothed and every corner tucked, I waited in anticipation for a glimpse of his face as he passed my room. All he did was wink. Yes! I'm back in his good graces! On top of the ferris wheel of daughterdom. Daddy winked at me. He was proud of me, and that was everything to me.
He was a good man and a great dad. Nearly sixty years later, I'm grateful for the lessons he taught me. I'm grateful for the woman I have become because of him. And of course, I always make my bed as soon as my feet hit the carpet.
Scent of a Father
Shopping cart wheels rolled on the pavement and parents and children filled their trunks with bags of soda, meats and vegetables. It was an ordinary morning until that scent permeated the air and for one instant I thought he was near. My head lifted. I filled my lungs with air and my eyes searched the parking lot. There it was—that scent for one split second—and then it was gone. The sweet smell of a man's cigar had taken me back twelve years to a time before my father's generous heart stopped beating; before his glorious smile was taken. I sat back in my car and tears began to well. I took a deep breath and remembered how he loved us all individually and collectively, how he made us all feel special and unique, how he held his family together through good times and difficult ones. I missed him. I took a deep breath and walked into the store grateful for the smell of a man's cigar and the gift it gave me in that moment.
Stand Up Straight
Recently, I had to go to the Department of Motor Vehicles to return my license plates. People were waiting, filling the room—some sitting, some standing. This motley group of drivers sat hunched over reading papers, legs propped up on backpacks, and arms stretched across the backs of chairs. One young girl had her head propped up in the palm of her hand as if it were just too heavy to stay up on its own. I looked at the people who were standing in line alongside of me. Lifting weight from the left foot to the right, men shifted anxiously forward. Ladies moved their heavy purses from shoulder to shoulder, causing them to lean slightly from one side to the other. Some people propped one foot on the bar under the counter when they finally got there, as if that was some sort of reward for standing in line so long. I saw many different sizes of people in all sorts of positions, yet rarely did I see anyone standing with perfect posture like I do. Like a ballerina waiting for my turn to dance, I stand tall and straight with an attitude of certainty. My mother taught me to stand that way, and I'm so grateful for it.
All those evenings in the living room, walking around in a circle with a book balanced on top of my head, have given me not just good posture, but an air of confidence and poise that others don't seem to have.
My mom, my sisters, and I laughed together and we tried to out-do one another. It was a game to see who could walk the furthest and balance the book the longest. It was all just fun back then for us girls. However, Mom knew exactly what she was doing. She was teaching us girls lifelong lessons. I'm delighted that I stand tall no matter where I am. I thank my mother for coaching me to be confident and secure and to walk into a room as if I own it!
Wrestling Match and Exercise
Ten legs of different sizes and shapes seemed to be growing out of the living room floor. Each pair of limbs worked intensely—doing the "bicycle" as fast as they could. There was my mother at the head of the class showing us girls how to have shapely, strong legs like hers. Somehow she always managed to stay up longer than the rest of us, peddling fast and with precise form. I wanted to be like my mother so I tried very hard to keep up with her. I think that's how the wresting matches between her and me started out. She always seemed to get me pinned down. No matter how hard I tried to pin her, I just never made it.
Those were pleasurable times on the living room floor. I think about it sometimes and wish I could go back just one more time and laugh like that again on the floor with my mother and sisters. Annie always ended up crying at some point. She was just too little to realize that mom and I were just having fun. Mom really wore me out. I thank her for spending time with me, for laughing with me, and for giving me some of the most wonderful memories.
Sitting still for very long was always dreadfully difficult for me. That made it especially hard for my mom to force my pin-straight hair to coil around her finger. A black hairpin would hold it in place for the night, setting her fingers free to work on the next rebellious thread of hair. She spent hours coaxing strands of my fine lifeless locks to become delightful dancing ringlets. I can still smell the sweet clean aroma of the Nestlé's hair tonic she used to force the curls into place, hoping to give them bounce and shine. My sisters' hair always came out better than mine. I suppose the fact that sitting still seemed easier for them had something to do with it.
Excerpted from Cry, Laugh, Cook! by Yvonne F. Conte Copyright © 2012 by Yvonne F. Conte. Excerpted by permission of Balboa Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
La Famiglia (The Family)....................3
Travel: Four Stories Straight from the Road....................29
Learning and Laughter: Fifteen Essays to Help You Live a Life of Joy....................36
PART TWO: THE CONVERSATIONS....................65
PART THREE: BENVENUTI ALLA MIA CUCINA!....................115
About the Author....................161
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Cry, Laugh, Cook! is a collection of stories, memories, & some wonderful recipes. The author reminds us of the importance of family and the joy of sitting together over a meal. Her essays are filled with humor. I couldn't help but laugh while reading the essay on "First Kiss." Yvonne gives some good advice throughout the book on how to deal with everyday problems by adding humor into our lives. I found the radio conversation dealing with stress helpful. The end of the book has a collection of family recipes that the author is wanting to share with us. The recipes sound so tasty. This book would make a wonderful, unique gift for anyone. Review by: Judi Chesshir- Author of "My Finny Fin Fin
Yvonne Conte's book Cry, Laugh, Cook is certainly an uplifting read. I recommend this to anyone who wants to celebrate family, fun, and food. When reading this book, I found myself smiling at the stories, because it brought back so many childhood memories of my own. At an early age, I was taught a great lesson from my own grandfather: Be sure to make time for some fun every day. So, Conte's message of always including humor in life certainly rings true for me. The last part of her book is certainly delicious (and not just because I come from an Italian heritage)! Conte shares recipes that will make your mouth water from Antipastos to desserts. On a personal note, I got a big kick at the end when Yvonne mentioned "agita". It's not often I hear that word outside of my family.