Living With Kids: Julie Gortemaker

Julie and her family live in Grand Island, Nebraska just outside of Omaha. Despite being a relatively small town, it because a hotspot of Covid-activity early in the outbreak, as Julie and her kids sheltered at home like so many of us did. Her husband works as an anesthesiologist, which I am sure made everything much scarier.

Things are calming down now, and luckily Julie and her family live in a gorgeous home with a few outbuildings (including one with a skeeball machine!) and a lot of land for kids to run around in. You’ll love getting to peek around her home and see all the fun details. Welcome, Julie!

Hello! I (Julie) live in this house with my husband, Josh, and our kids Jake (9) and Emma (5), and we have an eleven year old Goldendoodle named Hadley. I am from Omaha, Nebraska and my husband is from Oshkosh, Nebraska (on the opposite side of the state, 6 hours apart).

Omaha is the biggest city in Nebraska, and I grew up in a fairly urban setting. Josh’s town had around 1,000 people and he grew up on a wheat farm. We had somewhat opposite surroundings, but our upbringings were similar in that we both grew up very close to our grandparents and other extended family. Family is very important to us.

We met in 2006 in Omaha. I was finishing up my senior year in nursing school and Josh was in his second year of anesthesiology residency. We were both working in the operating room and met up at a co-worker’s goodbye party. I graduated from nursing school and took a job in Omaha. We were together for a year and then got engaged. There were job openings in Grand Island, Nebraska (2 hours west of Omaha) so we took a chance and moved here. We’ve lived here for 12 years now. 

Josh is a staff anesthesiologist at our local hospital. I worked in the OR at the same hospital for a couple years until I had our oldest, Jake. I’ve mainly stayed at home with both of the kids, although I’ve kept my nursing license active. I do a lot of volunteer work for local organizations.

Jake is a typical oldest child — detail oriented and adherent to rules, regulations, policies, and procedures. He loves Pokemon and has encyclopedic knowledge about all the different types and qualities of all of the creatures. He enjoys sports but isn’t super obsessed with a certain one. He loves to read and often has several books scattered in different locations about the house, all propped open to the last page he’s read. He’s sensitive and inquisitive, and we love him very much.

Emma is our youngest and she’s goofy! She has the most hearty giggle that always makes me smile. She loves all things glitter and sparkle and rainbow. She is an excellent artist and crafter, which makes me so excited. She gives great hugs and rides her scooter (named Scootaloo) all over the place. We love her very much too.

We’ve had our dog for 11 years (it was a classic “let’s get a dog before we have kids” scenario) and she is a great dog. She is obsessed with tennis balls and will play fetch all day

We live outside of the town of Grand Island (population 50,000). It’s about a 10 minute drive to get into town. The housing market was pretty limited when we first moved here — all of the houses we looked at needed tons of work. We ended up buying the home of the woman that recruited Josh to the hospital that wasn’t “officially” for sale. There are tons of little lakes around Grand Island with housing developments around them, and our first home was on one of these lakes. We loved the area — it’s slightly rural and super quiet. Most of our neighbors are older retirees, although there have been younger families that have moved in the last 5 years.

After we had our first kid, we were looking around for a new house because the lake was literally 10 feet away from our back door. I was a little nervous about raising kids so close to the water. The home just to the south of us always intrigued us — its pasture bordered our first home. In 2012, we found out it was for sale under the radar and we made an appointment to look at it. It had sat empty for several years and it was rough. The rooms were outdated and vines had grown out of control.

It was exactly what we were looking for as far as space though — it’s a little over 4 acres with the main house, a barn, and a storage building with a wood shop. We had some serious discussions and decided to put an offer in. It was accepted, and we decided to stay in our other house while we renovated.

Renovations took eight months — we took the house down to the studs. My husband and our families did a ton of work and we had two teams of contractors working simultaneously. The amount of decisions to make was endless and it was overwhelming at times, especially with a one year old. We would bring him over to the house and set him up with toys while we worked. We moved in February of 2013 and I was so grateful that the process was over.

I should have known though…we have done several more projects since then, including re-siding the house and adding on a master suite/tornado shelter. Since our water table is so high where we live, most homes (including ours) don’t have basements…and since Nebraska has tornadoes, we figured we should probably figure that out. We also renovated the barn a few years ago into a game/entertainment center.

GI is an interesting mix of rural and urban — it’s the fourth biggest town in Nebraska but we don’t have a four year college, which somewhat hurts our chances for attracting a younger population. Kids that move away for college tend to stay away until they have a family, then they come back here.

It’s a wonderful place though because the people are so caring. We had so many people bring meals after we had both of the kids — which for a hungry, sleep deprived mother was everything! We have great neighbors that have become like family. Our school is super small and tight knit. I feel so confident sending our kids to school in a pandemic because I know everyone there cares so much about the kids. There are tons of small towns around us that have super interesting character.

I love to explore Nebraska because it is full of under the radar curiosities. And we have four super distinct seasons. I abhor winter but I know that it is necessary to get through before we can have spring and summer

A lot of homes in our area aren’t officially listed for sale, but the owners are often ready to move. It’s usually widely known in the community who is ready to downsize or move out of the area, but it can be hard to figure out for newcomers. 

We were the first ones to look at the house since it wasn’t officially listed.  I have been a fervent admirer of Martha Stewart since I was in seventh grade (so cool!). I knew i wanted a white kitchen with no honey oak whatsoever (our first home had honey oak everywhere). I started searching on Houzz and other design websites and came up with some ideas for what I wanted. I had a pretty good idea of what I wanted and our contractors were amazing to work with. 

It’s a fairly unique house in that it was built in 1950, but it was added on to several times over the years. We think that there are at least 3 additions. When we did the renovation, we opened up a lot of the rooms and took down several walls. The kitchen had black lacquer cabinets and gray corian countertops and it looked very 90’s cool. The ceiling in the living room had chicken wire stucco, and that was not fun to take down on a 90 degree summer day with no AC!

The barn was a real barn with horse stalls (the previous owner had a horse) but we were certain that horses were not in our future, so we converted that to a TV area/kitchen when we did the barn renovation.

One of the best parts of the property is the game room in the upstairs of the barn. The previous owner owned a construction company, and the 20 foot plus shuffleboard table was brought in through the window with a crane! We were able to buy the pool table and shuffleboard table as part of the house sale. My husband found the skeeball table on Craig’s List when a local carnival company in Chapman, NE was liquidating some games.

The countertop and table in the barn are made from an old bowling alley lane from Lyons, NE. The (non-working) anesthesia machine in the corner was from the hospital in my husband’s hometown of Oshkosh, NE — his parents bought it at auction when the hospital quit doing surgery.

There is a jar of wheat on our fireplace room bookcase that was the last wheat Josh’s Grandpa Gerald harvested. The covered wagon on the shelf in the barn was made by my Grandpa Leo. The red Nebraska flag in the barn was from my Grandpa Don — he used to take it to Nebraska football games and wave it. There are touches of our parents and grandparents and their deep Nebraska roots everywhere in our house and barn and we absolutely love that. 

We were on our first big family airplane trip at Disneyland when the dominoes of the current pandemic really started to fall. When we had left Nebraska, things didn’t seem so bad, but while we were in California, everything happened so quickly. We were in the park the last day it was open and everything seemed so surreal. You could tell the cast members were trying to be cheerful but they were uncertain. We were worried they were going to shut down flights and we would have to drive home! 

When we got back, it was weird because we still didn’t have many cases in Nebraska but it was really ramping up on the coasts. They cancelled school and we transitioned into remote learning. Thankfully our school district developed a great plan and all kids in our district were able to pick up their laptops and attend classes online.

I naively assumed we would be insulated because we aren’t super close to a big city…wrong! Our town is home to a large meatpacking facility and in April and May, we were hit hard with many cases. We were a “hotspot” for a few weeks but thankfully our numbers have decreased.

Our daily life consisted of Jake doing school remotely in the morning and Emma and I would color and work on some letters and numbers…and bake. We baked a lot. We would eat lunch, go on a walk, and the kids would have screen time while I read or dozed off. We would eat dinner together and play outside and my husband would supervise while I went for a walk. 

Now that school has resumed, the kids are both in school full time. I am beginning a new chapter in my life now that there isn’t a kid at home — something i haven’t had for 9.5 years. I love to play pickleball, paint, go for walks, listen to podcasts, and bake. I love to write letters, and go to the library, and do crafts. I’m not sure what my future holds as far as employment — i am kinda waiting to see how this all pans out and if we have to go to remote school again. It will all work out!

I was grateful, so grateful, that we had room to roam and the kids had ample outdoor space during that crazy time. I bought a lot of weird stuff (tennis ball rebounder, anyone?) that we could play with outside. It was disheartening when it rained or snowed because being outside was such an important part of our daily routine. I still made everyone go outside when the weather was not ideal though — everyone has full snow and rain outfits in Nebraska! 

I am one of those moms that gets anxious about summer break and filling those unstructured hours. When they cancelled school in March, it was soul crushing. I felt so incredibly grateful that I was able to stay home with everyone and my husband still had a job and no one was sick and 583 other reasons i was SUPER fortunate. But I was still scared.

It reminded me of the time with newborn babies when the learning curve of everyday living was SO steep. Our town basically shut down because our outbreak was so bad. My husband was actually home more than usual because they stopped doing elective surgeries. He still had to take calls and there were certainly some long hours involved there, but he was home more overall. Again, I am super grateful for our situation because we were able to tag team parenting and let the other person decompress.

I did really enjoy how we had to be resourceful about how to fill our days. BC (Before Covid), we would often go to Omaha for the weekend to see my parents and be in the “big city”. We didn’t have this option, so we hung out a lot more at home. We built a lot of forts and obstacle courses in our empty living room. We started a lot of traditions like “take out Wednesday”, “movie Friday” and “ice cream Saturday” and they were real cornerstones in our lives during that bizarro time. The kids really looked forward to those days, and I did too!

The hardest part has been the fear. When my husband came home after caring for the Covid positive patients, I was overwhelmed with fear for him. I was scared for our parents and my grandmother, who is 92 and still in great health. Hearing the helicopters whizzing over my house transferring Covid patients to bigger cities was beyond scary.

I found that when I got angry or frustrated with the kids, it was usually because I had something in the back of my mind that was making me short tempered. I wish I would have known a few months before this that fear is often what makes us act out. Everyone’s world has been turned upside down in the past months, and it’s easy to say things you don’t mean when you’re afraid. It’s difficult for me to slow myself down when I’m on that fear spiral. It’s important to extend yourself and others grace during these “unprecedented times” (boy do I hate that term!)

I think the biggest takeaway I have is how important it is to have a sense of humor. I consider myself a funny person and I come from a funny family. I completely understand that so much of what we’re going through is not funny, but it’s vital to find humor where you can. 

I hope I never take my family’s health for granted as a result of this. Working in the OR, you often see people who are at the point of surgical intervention and how scary that is for them. I had to have C-sections with both the kids and I was so nervous! I hope I never take for granted that our parents are able to spend time with us and their grandchildren and the gift that that is. 

As far as change on a societal level, I’m honestly not sure what that looks like. I hope people appreciate their children’s educators and the difficult job they have to do with limited resources. It was heartening to see our community rally around healthcare workers and show their appreciation to them.

Over the last several months, I have learned that my kids are very funny people. Emma makes up lyrics to songs she hears on Kidz Bop and it’s the most hilarious thing ever. Jake is more serious but is equally funny. I think both of my kids are fairly sensitive, just like I am. They melt down when they are hungry and tired. They are fairly attuned to each other and when one is struggling, the other one is very inquisitive about what is happening.

Emma had to start school one day before Jake since she’s in kindergarten, and Jake wondered aloud all day how she was doing. They’ve been together so long at home that it was weird for them to be apart!

I don’t think it has changed the way I parent too much (although it has definitely loosened some screen time restrictions!). I try to value experiences over things and try to instill a sense of adventure in my kids. My husband often says that kids don’t need huge experiences and vacations, going to stay at the Holiday Inn with a pool the next town over is equally exciting as a trip to Disneyland (see above Disneyland Beginning of Pandemic experience). One of the kids’ best summer memories was taking a picnic lunch bike excursion to the next lake over.

As parents, we often think we need to provide exciting experiences but our kids are content just spending time with us.

I hope my kids remember the comforting  feeling of being wrapped up in a towel after running through the sprinklers. I hope they remember warm s’mores by our tractor rim campfire. I hope they remember the feeling of pride when they’ve made a beautiful piece of art. I hope they remember cookies and milk for a bedtime snack. 

I hope they forget the times when i am short tempered with them. I hope they forget the fear and anxiety I had in that Disneyland hotel room when the world was crumbling around us. I hope they forget how grumpy I am before I’ve had a cup of coffee.

I love seeing the kids enjoy things that I loved as a child. I love seeing their confidence grow in skills they learn. Seeing our parents become grandparents was super heartwarming — my kids are blessed with the most amazing grandparents who all have different backgrounds and strengths. They are incredibly loved and supported by our families.

I already miss the feeling of curling up at the end of the day and reading books before bed. I love children’s books (and buy tons and tons for the kids) and I miss picking out books at the bookstore and library. My husband made all of the kids’ bookshelves and i love them so much.

I wish I had truly believed that everything will always work out. My dad is famous for his saying “it will all work out, one way or the other”. That’s difficult to believe when you are a freshman in high school struggling with algebra or an exhausted parent of a teething six month old. But it’s true. Nothing lasts forever, good or bad, and we’re often better on the other side of struggle.

This pandemic will not last forever, although it feels like we’re stuck in quicksand at the moment. All we can do is make the best of the hand we’ve been dealt. I often visit our local museum, which has several pioneer artifacts (including a real covered wagon!), and think, “I could NEVER…” Just like when we looked at this house for the first time, I thought, “I could NEVER…” I’m sure most of us never thought we’d be living through a global pandemic, but here we are. 


Thank you, Julie! How fortunate to be able to shelter in place in such a fun home! So much light, so comfortable looking and so homey. Plus the addition of having a whole separate building for your shuffleboard and skeeball! That must be so great to send the kids over to play a little pool in the afternoon to get them out of your hair.

I was also really struck by Julie’s experience of dealing with traveling the day everything started with the shut down, to getting back home and then having her town become a hot spot, and on top of that having her husband working in healthcare. It must all have been so stressful. I think this pandemic has really shown a lot of us what we are able to deal with and how resilient we and our kids can be.

What new ways have you found you can be resilient during these weird times? What have you seen your kids do that has impressed you? How are you and your family supporting each other during these times?

Living With Kids is edited by Josh Bingham — you can follow him on Instagram too.

Would you like to share your home in our Living With Kids series? It’s lots of fun, I promise! (And we are always looking for more diversity in the families we feature here. Single parents, non-traditional parents, families of color, LGBT parents, multi-generational families. Reach out! We’d love to hear your stories!!) Email us at

5 thoughts on “Living With Kids: Julie Gortemaker”

  1. How cool! I am a Nebraskan too (currently in Omaha), so it was neat to read someone’s experience that I could so closely relate to :) Love that game space!

  2. I enjoyed this one very much. Thank you for sharing. What a great property.

    I also adore children’s books and going to the library to pick them up for the kids.

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