Valley neighbors: My journey
by Sandi Olson
Nov 15, 2012 | 1060 views | 0 0 comments | 4 4 recommendations | email to a friend | print

Normally, I write about other people’s lives, but this time I’ve been asked to share a little of my story.

Recently, I was selected as one of 12, of more than 3,500 applicants, to win the Guideposts Writers Contest. Winning included an all-expense-paid trip to Port Orchard, Wash., to train with the editors. Now I’ve been asked to write for Guideposts, an inspirational monthly magazine.

Many of us have a dream to write. I’ve met people who think that they can’t be writers and that their lives aren’t interesting enough to write about. But everyone has a story to tell, and here’s my story.

I grew up in Mill Valley — a small town north of San Francisco — and came from a family of writers. My dad wrote professionally in business and advertising, and my mom wrote poetry.

Although I had no intention of becoming a writer, I loved books. My younger sister, Shonnie, and I were passionate about biographies and would read as many as we could get our hands on.

In high school, I was involved in little theater groups in Marin and San Francisco. I was also active in student government, debate and sports.

After graduating high school, I attended San Francisco State University in the mid 1960s, majoring in psychology. I was captivated by this era, including the hippie movement and its diversity, although I was not a hippie myself.

I met my husband, Doug, in class and we were married at the end of our junior year.

A year later, Doug got his induction notice from the Army. Instead, he enlisted in the U.S. Air Force and enrolled in Officer’s Training School at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas. I joined him and was granted an emergency teaching permit.

Our lives suddenly changed with Doug’s assignment at Keesler Air Force Base in Mississippi. I taught impoverished kids in the Deep South and was greatly distressed by the segregation and intolerance I saw. It was so different from my Bay Area college experiences.

Next, Doug was transferred to Patrick Air Force Base near Cape Canaveral in Florida, and I went through another paradigm shift. I was a language arts teacher at the Cape and worked with some of the most gifted students in the country.

I’ll never forget the times when I accompanied my husband to the press area to view rocket launches. Our son, Jon, was born in Florida, followed by his sister, Kristin.

After Doug’s discharge, we moved to Los Gatos and eventually settled in the Scotts Valley area, where we’ve lived for the past 25 years.

I continued teaching and did my graduate work in special education. I also taught adult English as a second language to students from a wide variety of cultural backgrounds.

But it wasn’t until trying times plagued me that I found my voice.

First, there was the loss of my family’s Tahoe home by fire, and subsequent financial difficulties, which led to marital problems.

Then, seven years ago, I received a cancer diagnosis, followed by open-heart surgery five years later.

Thankfully, I’m fine now, but my husband and I were forced to make some serious changes. I began to keep a journal and to write down my thoughts.

After regaining strength, I spoke to different groups and led seminars at Mount Hermon Christian Conference Center, where I shared what I’d learned about coping with grief and loss. Through all this, I’ve met some extraordinary people — their stories and their faith have changed me.

As a result, I was inspired to start my “Valley Neighbors” column in the Press-Banner.

Last summer, I attended the Mount Hermon Writers Conference and sold a story I’d ghostwritten for a former Olympian. Then I wrote a personal story for the Guideposts contest, which will be published next year.

My writing for Guideposts is different from my column. A Guideposts story is true story of hope and inspiration. It helps people connect their faith-filled values to their daily lives.

As a writer for Guideposts, I now have the opportunity to write personal stories for 8 million people to read. If you think that you have a story to share, feel free to contact me. I’ll interview you, ghostwrite your story and send it to the editors to review.

In addition to writing, I enjoy playing tennis at La Madrona Athletic Club, spending time with my family and getting to know my valley neighbors.

- Sandi Olson of Scotts Valley is a writer, speaker and teacher. She writes about interesting people in Scotts Valley and the San Lorenzo Valley. Email her at

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