No Room At the Inn

Interesting guests and odd experiences that occurred at Pierce’s Inn inspired me to start keeping a list starting when I was in third grade. During those early years, my parents were hesitant to acknowledge anything odd or interesting when I shared my observations about our lives as innkeepers. Because it was their new job and lifestyle, they were eager to make it all seem normal. Owners of inns, hotels and motels shared an unspoken rule: What happens under your roof stays under your roof. This was considered job security for my parents and a comic feast for me.

Bidding farewell to the guests on Sunday morning after a long weekend

The very parents and siblings who marinated me in storytelling and encouraged me to develop keen observation skills were suddenly asking me to put on blinders. I disobeyed and kept adding to the list. My older siblings understood that their college tuition depended on the success of Pierce’s Inn, so they wisely supported my parents’ respectful denial even when things went off the rails. Because I was unaware of the realities of making ends meet and trying to make sense of what unfolded on a daily basis right in my own house, I made it my business to pay attention.

Occasionally, one of my older siblings would fall out of rank and acknowledge the humor or nuttiness of a situation. My rotating collection of sisters-in-law and brothers-in-law were quite helpful providing perspective of what unfolded in the family and with the guests. Their acknowledgement of some fascinating tidbits confirmed that keeping a record was a worthy pursuit. In fact, my former brother-in-law who saw it all from the beginning suggested it was time to get some of these stories written down and shared.

My original list is not accessible, but versions of it have made it along through some memory boxes to reach my writing files, journal and comic storytelling on stage. Even when I went off to college, I paid close attention to the stories before they were swept under the rug. By the time we were all adults, everyone was more willing to acknowledge the truth of it all. I decided if I every wrote a book about Pierce’s Inn, I would title it, Good Vibes and Duct Tape because my parents mustered some serious magic to hold the place and the business together over the years.

Reg and Nance sending off the guests after a big weekend at Pierce’s Inn

One night we hosted a large party. After dinner, a very drunk man burst into the kitchen to ask if he could rent a room for the night. My mom explained that every room was rented, but he was persistent. While directing a kitchen full of servers attempting to serve dessert and get the dishes done around this large, insistent man, my mom repeatedly made it clear that there was no room at the Inn. He would not leave the kitchen and was relentless in his pursuit of any nook or cranny she would rent.

In a huff of annoyance with a side of snarky humor, my mother told the man that the only space available in the whole Inn was a storage closet. Without even seeing the closet, he joyously claimed it for the night. The “Long Room” closet was at an all-time low of disrepair. The cracked and caving floor let in cold air as well as a waft of earthy mildew. The sagging shelves were bursting with old cleats, baseball bats, winter clothes, boots and stacks of rejected mustard-colored tablecloths and holy sheets. My dad prepared for the apocalypse by keeping every frayed towel, pair of ski boots, holy sheet and can of old paint just in case. All of these items were precariously stored in the Long Room.

Despite the musty smell and excessively cluttered space fully revealed on the tour of the space, the drunk man promptly offered my mom twenty bucks for a night in the Long Room. She and my sister-in-law thought it was so outrageously funny that they invested energy and time to find an old mattress. They threw on some old sheets, found a marginal pillow and topped it off with an allergy-inspiring wool blanket (known as a Civil War blanket among my nephews and nieces).

When this man emerged from the hovel in a somewhat sober state the next morning, he and my mom had some big laughs recounting the sequence of events that led to her renting him the most compromised bed situation in the history of Pierce’s Inn. He described being confused when he woke up to find a power saw and a staple gun inches from his face. He found it even more baffling when he rolled over and found excessive linen storage and a huge supply of sports equipment dangling off the sketchy shelves. When he finally found his bearings, he stumbled back to the kitchen to find my mom with a formal bill for $20. He actually paid her. He declined her offer of breakfast because he didn’t feel quite up to a meal, but he gladly accepted a cup of coffee on the house.


Hookups and “Handlers”: Dragging Middle School All The Way To College

Social Courage takes practice. Many people hope that Social Courage will suddenly land on them and allow them to avoid awkwardness. Developing Social Courage requires a willingness to be vulnerable by diving into awkward soup with some regularity. Social Courage improves communication, which in turn improves relationships.

A common assumption among high school and college students is that sexual knowledge, ease and comfort are acquired by hooking up with a lot of partners. Hookup culture promises that drama will be avoided while sexual experience will be gained. Years of discussions with young people about sexual norms confirms that hooking up actually leads to a lot of below average sex and drama. No matter how hard people try to spin hookup sex as no big deal, they privately admit that they become consumed by wondering about how sex could be better, the imbalance of interest, and the effort to mask any emotional interest.

Hookups are often facilitated through social media. The avoidance and delay of direct communication magnifies social awkwardness and drama. There is a strong expectation for people to keep it casual, even though many secretly crave intimacy and connection. Many assume that practicing casual sex will convert to more sexual skills. Practicing below average sex actually becomes one’s practice and often lasts for decades. There is no app to rescue anyone from the emotional and physical vulnerability of being naked or even partially naked with another person. Plenty of people keep at it holding the belief that great sex is right around the corner.

Handlers have become a thing. Of course they don’t call themselves “handlers.” Handlers are what I call the self-elected friends who assume clearance to manage other people’s relationships all under the guise of being helpful. My husband and I have laughed for years about the handlers of our later elementary school years. Bruce had a girlfriend in 5th grade with whom he scarcely spoke during the entire month they were going out. In fifth grade no one knows what to do, so a group of friends become your team of handlers.

Bruce’s handlers talked to a girl’s handlers, and suddenly they were dating. The handlers tagged along and took care of all of their communication at school and on a date to the movies. They spoke just a few words on the slow-speed 70s double chairlift ride when the handlers joined them for a day of skiing. Four weeks into the relationship, the handlers let them know they had broken up. Bruce was actually relieved. It wasn’t long before the idea of handlers seemed ridiculous, and the development of communication skills dependably put the handlers out of work by time we were in 7th grade.

Handlers are back. They have become a standard, unspoken part of the social and sexual lives of many high school and college students. It’s like Tinder with real people as the connectors (for better or worse). Handlers gain social power and status by giving friends access to the people with whom they want to hook up. While some handlers have kind intentions, some are status-seeking meddlers and gossipmongers who use social media to facilitate their own involvement and ensure their important role in friends’ relationships. A genuine friend should nudge you into awkward soup and coach you on your communication skills so you are able to manage your own relationships.

Handlers can benefit by bringing others into the hookup scene to affirm their own choice to hook up or hope to hook up. Keeping up appearances is part of the hookup game and that can involve being an advocate for participation. Even if your own hookups aren’t working out, you can mask your doubts as long as others are buying into the system.

A good number of students recognize the limitations of the hookup scene and opt out, but it is nearly impossible to avoid the banter. The number of hookups among high school and college students is significantly lower than what people assume. Perception fueled by media, marketing, social media and peer banter can make people feel angst about being left out of the hookup scene.

Plenty of people hold a secret hope that hooking up will lead to a relationship, but most over-compensate to conceal that. People are also motivated to hook up with someone to avoid judgment (being called a prude or a pussy) or to boost their own social status. Hooking up is often more about joining a club than it is about sex. It turns out that most participants in the hookup scene aren’t particularly satisfied, even boys who almost always get off in a hookup.

Feeling beholden by the opinion of handlers and the possibility that handlers will discuss your hookups with others can influence one’s sexual decisions. The risk of committing or being a victim of sexual assault can increase when people are motivated to step outside their comfort zones and push boundaries to impress others. A person may use coercion, depend on alcohol or use physical restraint to subdue a partner if they believe the outcome of their hookup will be scrutinized by people whose opinions matter in their social circle.

High school and college students are complain regularly about the below average sex of the hookup scene, but lowering the bar seems to be a worthy price to pay in exchange for social credibility and feeling included. In addition to the influences of peers, culture, media, porn, social media and a need to prove one’s worthiness, handlers complicate the sex lives of young people.

Chancy Libido: A Wee Boost of Scottish Flare

It is amazing how sex leads to having kids, and having kids doesn’t lead to much sex. Sex drive can be elusive and require a conscious effort to keep it on the radar, especially with kids. Bruce and I often assume vacation will be a great sex opportunity, until we find ourselves in a house with thin walls, creaky floors and squeaky twin beds with our extended family. These factors are not obstacles for Bruce. He tolerates my stealth Navy Seal hand signals along with the shushing and pauses. It turns out that Ninja vacation sex is not that randy.

Many women complain that the biggest obstacle to enjoying sex is getting focused enough to start the engine. Aside from the legitimate stressors and busyness, many women fail to notice the random opportunities to help shift the mindset. Fantasy is not only healthy and normal, but it can veer your mind away from to-do lists and stress opportunities. Action follows thought. For me, catching an interview with Tom Brady jumpstarts a morsel of a sexual thought on which I can capitalize. I always send Brady back to the locker room once I have decided to have sex. As my mother told me, “Once you decide to have sex, you never regret it.”

Bruce has always wished our desires for sex were more equal. I should be flattered that he still wants to engage with my ample supply of repellents and unconcealed aging. I remember how challenging it was to prioritize sex when our kids were little and needy. Husbands who sulked or begged for sex were perplexed by how it didn’t convert. It was even worse when they would help around the house and then ask for praise or notice in hopes of getting some action. Just vacuum and move on… to the dishes maybe.

Many guys wonder what would make women insatiable for sex. Personally, a collision of factors would have to align. When the moon is full, hormones are behaving, all kids are sound asleep, and the dishes and laundry are done, there is a ten-minute window of insatiable – if Bruce finds the window, Shazam. If we waited around for that window to open, we would have sex twice a year. That is why planning sex is not a bad gig. Bruce once asked for clear specifics about what would increase his chances for sex. My clear criteria improved our sex life: Sex needs to start before 11 PM, when he takes a shower, he should use soap everywhere, and brush his teeth with toothpaste. Optimism helps keep Bruce very clean.

There is this book that has jumpstarted the libidos of millions of women. I am not talking about Fifty Shades of Crap, however. For those of you who enjoy non-consensual restraint, nipple clamps, or having your clitoris whipped with a riding crop, you go! Most women don’t have the interest, time or storage space for such events. Personally, I am interested in good orgasms to keep me fired up – the real ones. Female orgasms occur in complicated, kelpy terrain. Women need to be the GPS for their partners.

The wonder book I speak of is Outlander by Diana Gabaldon. When my friend first insisted I read it, I was daunted by the idea of reading more than eight hundred pages of historical fiction with a time travel element. Once I got to about page two hundred twenty-five, however, I could not stop reading. This nurse travels back to the 1700s where circumstances force her to marry a Scotsman named Jamie Fraser. Jamie is a strapping, lusty buck who is also loving and attentive. He is a fierce warrior who is tender and expresses his emotions. Jamie and Claire ride around the Highlands on horseback. Occasionally they stop, Jamie drops his kilt and they have a wee romp.

One night Bruce was out and I got so lost in Outlander that lost track of time. Bruce had an outing with his reflective and outdoorsy friends. They canoed up a river and stopped to cook a late dinner over a fire. When someone offered Bruce a beer, he asked for the time. One guy replied, “It’s 10:50, but why would the time matter?” Bruce hunkered in with a beer explained that there would have been a chance for sex if he got home by eleven.

Bruce assumed I had fallen asleep with the light on when he drove in the driveway at 12:30 AM. By the time Bruce reached the top of the stairs, I could already smell nasty burnt sausage, and his manky body odor. When he stepped in the room, he was visibly dirty with a greasy layer on his face. His hair was askew with a headlamp aslant on his head. Much to his surprise, I rounded on him like a tigress in heat. He dropped his pants to his ankles and dove into bed with the headlamp still on in case I changed my mind. Since Outlander has eight book in the series and has been made into a TV show on STARZ Network, Jamie can start the engine with a bit more frequency.

Elusive Family Joy: Big Plans, Snarky Kids

I used to anticipate “family joy” with giddiness as we embarked on a hike, outing, vacation, or dinner out together as a five-pack. It wasn’t too far into our parenting journey that I learned how my expectations, hopes and agendas could turn special time together into a slog.

We had been waiting to have full family day of skiing. As innkeepers, one of us would usually have to serve the guests at Pierce’s Inn while the other parent took the kids skiing. It was also rare for the NH weather and snow conditions to align enough to make a family day of skiing tolerable. Then there is the fact that the reality of taking little kids skiing isn’t as fun as it is in theory. One forgotten ski pole, glove or neck warmer is a recipe for a horrible day of negotiating unsatisfactory replacements patched together from our own ski bags and those of friends.

When our kids were five, seven and nine, they had all become capable enough skiers to bomb around with us at the Dartmouth Skiway. The miraculous combination of a free weekend at the Inn and a beautiful February day with new snow and a perfect temperature seemed to park Family Joy on our doorstep.

Then the packing battle began. Despite my misguided declaration of rules for gear storage, the kids’ gloves, helmets and water bottles were nowhere to be found. We bumped into each other scrambling to find our stuff creating a frantic vibe. I unraveled in a sweaty snarl as the clock ticked and kept up my solid pace of joyless nagging. Nine year-old Zander stared out the window in a Zen state while standing in a wreath of unpacked items unfazed by encouragement from every direction. I was too far down the rabbit hole to recognize the need to slow down and be in the moment as he had always been able to do.

Bruce was barking directions while he fumbled to gather his morning cup of coffee and pack a significant collection of coffee-making equipment to bring along to the Skiway. He was so lost in his own coffee obsession and organizational challenges that he was not able to help find missing items amidst our clutter. Gloating Sadie was stomping around in all her gear and ski boots bragging about how she was the only one ready. Colter was in a full protest lay-down yelling, “You’re not the boss of me!” to each person who instructed him on how to help move our big jolly plan forward.

After a solid twenty minutes of hustling in and out of the house, stuffing skis and bags in the minivan, and fierce, irritable door slamming, the five of us were in the car. Bruce backed out of the driveway while the four of us stared out of our windows with sour expressions on our faces. There was lingering resentment and tension in the air even for Zen-like Zander whose moment has been disrupted.

After Bruce drove for about a quarter mile down the road, he slowed the car to a stop. He adjusted the rearview mirror to make eye contact with the kids. “Hey people!” he said with a big grin. No response from his salty passengers. “Hey people, guess what? (pause) These are the good old days!” Bruce’s odd angle of humor took Zander and me by surprise, and we started chuckling. The other two were slow to get it, but they caught onto the release of our laughter and joined in. As the truth of his statement settled in the car, we were all smiling and more laughter filled the van. Bruce took a sip of his coffee, reached over to hold my hand and hit the accelerator. Onward we went with a new lens into a new day.

I have surrendered to the idea that planning family joy is impossible. Keeping the bar low allows for family joy to sneak in and pop up in random ten-minute windows. By staying receptive to the unexpected conversation, observation, question, or silence together, we eventually find a slice or two of joy. Sometimes it happens on an outing, but family joy has a way of showing up in the middle of mundane moments. I no longer wait for it, expect it, or force it, but when it slips in to shine on our family, I aim for the the presence of mind to bask in it while it lasts.

Book Event at the Norwich Bookstore – SEX, COLLEGE AND SOCIAL MEDIA by Cindy Pierce

Cindy Pierce will be presenting her new book, Sex, College and Social Media: A Commonsense Guide to Navigating the Hookup Culture this Wednesday, January 18th at the Norwich Bookstore at 7:00 PM

In her new book. Sex, College, and Social Media: A Commonsense Guide to Navigating the Hookup Culture, raconteur Pierce weaves together expert opinions, personal anecdotes, and the real feedback of today’s college and high school students, to help make those difficult conversations a little less difficult for everyone.

Please make a reservation by phone (802-649-1114) or email (

For more information about Cindy and her work:

Avoid the Dog House and the Bra Bullies

This is a Dog House warning for the fellas. It is Christmas crunch time. You have probably seen the Beware of the Dog House video. Worth reviewing!

This is the time when you really need to lock in and stay focused on reality. Resist the temptation to buy the woman you love house cleaning gear and lingerie (this word is so foreign to me I had to look up how to spell it). I have personally witnessed some unfortunate Christmas Dog-House-inducing moments. One man’s crunch time purchase of a negligee and granny sweater for his wife of many years was a double jab that went over like a turd in the punchbowl. Despite his good intentions, his wife and all the females who witnessed the offering bossed him into going back into the retail madness to return the items. Continue reading


American Girls by Nancy Jo Sales makes it resoundingly clear that the impact of social media is moving so quickly that even teenage consumers struggle to manage their social lives. Parents and educators feel left behind and therefore reluctant to face the complicated reality their kids are navigating. Some parents choose to avoid the conversation because they don’t feel equipped. Many parents cross their fingers and hope it works out for their kids, counting on their kids to apply the values they taught them to this social arena, unfamiliar to parents. The social lives of kids are played out through their phones on multiple platforms invisible to most adults. While our kids are scrambling to stay socially relevant on their screens, it can appear that everything is fine. Without clear evidence of an issue or incident, parents don’t see the need to step in and guide their kids. When the drama and complexity of a situation is forced out of the virtual world into full view, parents are often shocked when it is clear how entangled their kids have become in social media. Continue reading


“Our youth now love luxury. They have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for their elders and love chatter in place of exercise; they no longer rise when elders enter the room; they contradict their parents, chatter before company; gobble up their food and tyrannize their teachers.”

—Socrates, 470/469–399 BC

Even a couple millennia ago, elders as revered as Socrates were worrying about the poor manners and morals of the young. Socrates, people! Adults’ observations of kids have not changed. The context in which kids grow up, however, changes radically with each generation. Parents and educators must give kids increasing independence and responsibilities while at the same time providing guidance and advice along the way. It’s a dicey balance. The parenting adventure is filled with conflict, delight, overstepping of bounds, recalibration, missed cues, getting off track, realignment, connection, miscommunication, and rebooting. The relationship between parent and child is ever changing, and requires an open heart and a willingness to invest in what matters. Continue reading

Cindy Pierce: Practicing Social Courage


Proctor Academy’s The Buzz — Jan. 27, 2016

By Scott Allenby

Usually the most valuable conversations are the most difficult ones. When Cindy Pierce visited Proctor Academy’s campus Tuesday, an anticipation of discomfort and curiosity preceded her separate conversations with students and faculty, which meant we knew this meant it would be time well spent! As Pierce noted at the beginning of her conversation, “In order to get to the other side of awkward, you have to wade through awkward soup.”

A social sexuality expert and comic storyteller, Pierce masterfully entertained and educated our community on how we can better navigate cultural, media, and peer pressures students are facing. We each left Pierce’s presentation with our minds spinning around shocking statistics on adolescent use of pornography, the hookup culture, and how technology interweaves throughout these very real issues for adolescents. Underlying each of these topics is an incredibly important theme for us to hear: students need to practice social courage in order to exhibit it when it matters most. Continue reading

Loomis Chaffee News: Cindy Pierce Discusses Healthy Relationships


Loomis Chaffee News — Jan. 13, 2016

By Christine Coyle
Faculty member and Loomis Chaffee parent

Author, sexuality educator, speaker, and comic storyteller Cindy Pierce spent two days on campus this week sharing information and her perspectives gleaned over many years of interacting with high school and college students on the issues of sound decision-making and developing healthy relationships.

During her visit, organized by the Office of the Deans of Students, Ms. Pierce met with the school community in several forums with a message tailored for each group and delivered in a humorous, no-nonsense style that was well-received by students and faculty alike. She addressed the freshmen class, spoke at an evening faculty meeting, shared lunch with student leaders, and spoke at a convocation for sophomores, juniors and seniors.

“Trust your gut. Trust time,” Ms. Pierce told students in her empathetic appeal to develop the “social courage” to follow their own compasses, rather than succumbing to the great pressure they may feel from peers, social media, and a “hook-up culture” to engage in sexual relationships before they are ready. Relationships and sex are much more fulfilling, both emotionally and physically, among partners who choose each other carefully, who respect each other, and who are not under the influence of alcohol, Ms. Pierce stressed. Continue reading