Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Centro Helen Keller

Today after morning practice, we went with our coach and a couple of our teammates to a school to play basketball with some kids. The school was called Centro Helen Keller. It’s a private school that any child can attend, but it is also a school that sort of specializes in teaching children with disabilities (blindness, deafness, etc.). We absolutely love doing stuff like this. We enjoy playing with children anytime/anywhere, but there is something extra special about doing it in a different country where there is a significant language barrier. When you’re playing with kids, you find a way to communicate even though you can’t speak the same language. I love it!

We started off just doing some simple dribbling drills. Jen was the leader, and the rest of us just kind of mixed in with the kids trying to help them with the different skills. Then, we split the groups up and worked on some layups for a bit. My coach thought it would be a good idea to have them try reverse layups, too! Pretty funny stuff :-) At the very end, we scrimmaged a little bit. My team had on green jerseys. I told them that we needed a team name, and they came up with ‘Alface’ which means ‘lettuce.’ :-) I was on a different court than Jen and her team so I didn’t get to see their scrimmage. Apparently, Jen’s team had some strategy: Get the rebound, outlet to Jen, run the floor, make layups. They must have had some extra time to practice or something because Team Alface was not quite so organized! :-)

We took some pictures with the kids, and then they went to class. Right before we left, a couple of the blind students came out to the court to meet us and take some pictures. I met a girl named Patricia. She was speaking to me in Portuguese so I couldn’t understand what she was saying, and then my coach came up to me and told me that she was inviting me to her house for bacalhau, a popular kind of fish in Portugal. So sweet! :-)

Anyways, it was a great day, and I hope that we can do more things like that in the future! We hope you're all having a great week!

Jen and Tina

Jen made us pose like this because she wanted to make fun of how short my shirt was :-) Mine is a large, and hers is a medium, but somehow my shirt is about 3 inches shorter than hers.

Jen leading drills

Group picture :-)

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Bom Fim de Semana

Hey everyone! We hope you all had a great weekend. Here’s a blog to let you know about the end of our week/weekend.

(Jen): Thursday after our night practice our men’s team had a scrimmage so we all stayed and watched. It was a lot of fun just hanging out with our teammates. They shared a few stories of past American teammates. Suzanna, a younger girl on the team, told us about this American girl who loved to party. They described her as a dirty dancer and wild. They told us that in the club she would dance and sing, "man, man, man... I want man!". We lost it!! We could not stop laughing. After that, they started teaching us words in Portuguese and would write down sentences for us to learn. Portuguese is similar to Spanish in a lot of ways, but in a lot of ways it isn't. Some words and letters are really hard for us to pronounce. For example, every night for dinner we go to this restaurant and Franko, our waiter, says, "Bom dia. Peixe or carne?" Bom dia is pronounced: bone dee'ah. Peixe is pronounced: pay-sh. In English he is saying, "Good day. Fish or meat?" Tina hates fish so she always says carne. When they have salmon I like to order it, but usually I stick to carne, as well. We still don't understand how the side dishes work but every time we order carne we get a big plate of white rice and a big plate of french fries. (We have had french fries every day for 2 weeks!) Cherish Stringfield would be happy! :) When I order fish, I get broccoli. I need to learn how to say, "I want to eat healthy. Do you have any vegetables?"

This weekend we had a tournament in a town called Cascais. We don’t completely understand what the tournament is for, but we know that it’s a tournament of all the teams in the league. This weekend was the pool play part of the tournament, and it was organized geographically so that teams would not have to travel very far. Our first game was against the national champions from last year, Quinta dos Lombos. They have an American player and a Croatian player. Tina and I were really excited to play because it has been a long time since we have played an official game. As a team we had some nice plays and some sloppy moments, but we came out with the win. We have only been practicing for 2 weeks so we are still getting use to how everyone likes to play. It was a fun game, and it was nice to get a sense for the level of competition in this league.

(Tina): After our game on Friday, our coach told us that we could have Saturday off. Jen and I were planning on going and exploring downtown Lisbon. Our teammate, Sara, called us and said that she would spend the day in Lisbon with us, so Saturday morning we met at the gym.

The first place we went was to Belém ( It’s only about a 5 minute drive from the gym (maybe less). Belém is a very famous/historic place in Portugal because it was from here that many of the explorers set out on their voyages during the Age of Discovery. Anyways, we parked near the river (Tagus) and started walking. The first thing we saw was the Belém Tower ( We didn’t go in the tower, but I think you can, so maybe that is something that we will do at some point. We were also pretty close to the bridge that looks like the Golden Gate Bridge (they call it the 25 of April bridge). Across the river, there is a statue that resembles the famous Christ the Redeemer statue that overlooks Rio de Janeiro. It was built in 1959 in thanks to God for sparing Portugal during WWII.

From there, we walked across the street to the Jeronimos Monastery ( The monastery was populated by monks of the Order of St. Jerome. Sara brought her dog with her (a Golden Retriever) for the first part of the day so she waited outside while Jen and I looked around at the monastery and the beautiful church. We tried to be quick since Sara was waiting for us so there is a lot that we didn’t see, but I’m sure we will go back. They have daily Mass, Rosary, and Vespers so once we figure out how to get there by bus or tram, we will probably go a lot. (One cool fact about the church is that Vasco de Gama, the famous Portuguese explorer, is buried inside).

We went back to the car at this point and drove a few minutes to a different place in Belém. It’s a famous pastry shop called Antiga Confeitaria de Belem. They are famous for a little round, pie-shaped pastry with a flaky crust and some kind of cream on the inside. I had seen these particular pastries in other bakeries around the city, but I learned that this shop is where the pastry was first created. We bought a couple of them and walked across the street to a park to eat them. We sprinkled cinnamon and powdered sugar on top. They were good. I usually don’t like pastries that have creamy fillings, but this was pretty good. It was fun to try a traditional/famous Portuguese dessert.

We walked back to the car and then drove to downtown Lisbon. We stopped by Sara’s house to drop off her dog. She drove us around pointing out some of the most notable monuments and landmarks – what a great tour guide :-) We parked and then walked to one of the main squares that overlooks the river. Then we walked down one of the most famous streets in Lisbon called Rua Augusta. It’s a great street for anyone who loves to shop. We walked for about an hour, just sort of wandering around.

At this point we were starting to get a little hungry so we went back to the car and drove to the more modern part of Lisbon. In 1998, Lisbon hosted some kind of world exposition. Countries from all over the world put something from their country on display. To prepare for this Expo, Lisbon built a whole bunch of arenas, offices, hotels, restaurants, etc. Once the Expo was over all of the new buildings remained so they just turned them into shopping centers, places for concerts, etc.

We found a restaurant near the river and had lunch there. (A quick note to European travelers: Don't assume that food or drinks placed on your table are free. Without us asking for any of it, the waitress brought bread, butter, crackers, spreads, and olives to our table. When we received our bill, we realized that we had been charged for each piece of bread, each container of butter, each cracker, etc. We should have known better, but since we were just recently in the U.S. we seem to have forgotten how things work over here!) After lunch we walked across the street to the Vasco de Gama shopping center. Jen wanted to get a caramel sundae and french fries from McDonald’s. Jen loves to take french fries and dip them in her sundae, and she wanted Sara to try it. Sara didn’t like it very much :-)

After that we drove back to our apartment and took naps! We woke up and went down to Algés for dinner. It was a really fun day, and it was great getting to finally explore the city a little bit. It was sooooo much easier being with someone who knows her way around so ‘Obrigada Sara!’ It was also great getting to know one of our teammates better. About 5 minutes after Sara picked us up from the gym, we were talking about something and found out that she is married! Haha…we had no idea. Her husband is currently in Russia working as a trainer for a soccer team. Anyways, it’s really nice being able to communicate with our teammates and learn more about them.

Today we woke up early. The U16 girls’ basketball team from our club had a game at 9:30 in the morning so Jen and I went to watch them play. Two of our teammates are the coaches of that team so it was fun to see them coach and to support another team from our club. After the game, we went to Mass at Cristo Rei. Since the parts of the Mass are always the same all around the world it’s easy to follow. Jen and I always get the readings for the day off of the EWTN website so that we can follow along in our Bible during the Liturgy of the Word. The one part of the Mass that we sometimes can’t understand is the homily, but today I actually understood what the priest was saying so that was exciting! I had to focus really, really hard, but I think I got the gist of it :-)

(Jen): We played our second game of the tournament this afternoon and won by 20 points. Next week is the final four of this tournament against the other teams who won their pools.

After the game, we went to dinner at the restaurant we eat at every night. Tonight was probably the worst meal we have had here. Franko brought us bread and water but did not ask us the usual question: “Peixe or carne?” We were just finishing the bread when he brought us out fried sardines and a mayonnaise salad (gag). Apparently, when you really love the food, the way that you show it is by touching your ear lobe with your thumb and pointer finger. Franko did this as he handed us our platters of food! Must be his specialty. I ate 6 sardines because I really don't mind fish and because I was trying to be polite, but we could not touch that mayo salad! Tina just quietly drank her water and licked up all her bread crumbs. I was getting sea sick from all my sardines when Franko came over with a sad face and said something about the mayo salad and the "peixe". I told him, "Tina likes carne and I like peixe and carne. Desculpe [desh-cool-peh] (I'm sorry)". So he took away the mayo salad and brought out rice and a pot roast!

After dinner, we went to the grocery store and bought some ice cream cones. (Mom, if you’re reading this, they taste just like the Skinny Cows from the 99 cent store). They are delicious! We also made some of the brownies that we brought from home – we are pretty much finishing up the whole pan of brownies as we type this blog! :-)

Well, we know this was a long blog, but we just wanted to let you know about our exciting weekend! God bless all of you!

Jen and Tina

With teammates after our first game of the tournament

Jen and Sara

Inside the church at the Jeronimos Monastery

At the monastery

In the park getting ready to try the famous pastries :-)

The Jeronimos Monastery

In front of the Tagus River

In front of the Tagus River with the 25th of April Bridge (the one that looks like the Golden Gate) behind us. Also, to the right of the bridge is the statue of Jesus that resembles the statue in Rio de Janeiro.

Jen thinking about her dog Barkley after meeting Vinny the English bulldog

In front of the entrance to Rua Augusta

The bank of the Holy Spirit - I don't know about you, but I want to bank here!

Jen giving some money to a little dog holding a bucket in his mouth

Taking a picture with a statue of the famous Portuguese poet, Fernando Pessoa

Portuguese art

In the modern part of Lisbon

We found our flag among all of the flags from the World Expo

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Boa noitte!

Hey everyone,

We’re sitting in our kitchen at 11:30 pm eating peanuts and drinking chocolate milk. We really like the chocolate milk. We went to the grocery store today and bought about 20 little boxes of it. When you’re overseas you definitely find a few items at the grocery store that you just have to have on a regular basis…right now, chocolate milk is one of those items.

(Jen): I’m currently waiting for Talia to log on to Today is our regularly scheduled “Tetris Tuesday.” While I’m waiting, I figured I could update you guys about the past couple of days.

The last member of our team arrived yesterday. She is a 31 year old doctor (surgical pathology). I just want to say that our teammates are really smart! In addition to the doctor (Susan), we have two people studying civil engineering, a lawyer, a teacher, and a bunch of girls who are still in school. We have a wide age range on this team – our youngest player is about 18 years old and the oldest is 33. Three of the older players played college basketball in the US - one played at East Carolina, one at the University of Texas San Antonio, and another at a college in Virginia (we can’t remember what college). We also have one teammate who is studying for her ACT right now because she wants to be able to play in the states.

Tina and I didn’t do much on Sunday. We went to Mass Saturday evening so Sunday morning we slept in. Our bus pass had expired so we couldn’t really go anywhere, but it was ok because it was nice to just rest and relax and get ready for another week. We did walk to dinner down in Algés, and instead of going our normal route, we took the scenic route that took us a little bit closer to the water – beautiful!

(Tina): I forgot to mention this in the last blog: Last Friday I had my 3rd allergic reaction of my life. I have no idea what I am allergic to – I should probably get that checked out. The first time it happened was about 2 years ago, and I was in the US. The second time it happened was last year in Slovakia. As far as I am aware, I didn’t eat or do anything out of the ordinary. Now that it has happened twice, I can sort of feel it coming on. We had just finished practice, and I was stretching when I noticed that my head and neck were really, really itchy. I didn’t think anything of it at first, and then I just realized what was happening. I told Jen that I needed to hurry up, shower, and get back to the apartment to take some Benadryl. We started talking to our coach about some basketball stuff, and I was trying really hard to not look crazy, but I could not stop scratching. My whole face was itching! Anyways, Jen finally told him what was happening so that kind of ended the conversation, and I went to shower. I wanted to just go back to the apartment right away, but of course Jen didn’t want to pass up the free dinner. We went to the restaurant, ate dinner, and then speed walked home (I would have ran, but I was too tired!). By the time I got home, I was starting to break out in hives all over my arms, back, stomach, and legs! Aaaaah… annoying! I took some Benadryl, and after about an hour, it started to kick in, and I felt a little relief. I went to bed, slept great, and woke up the next morning like it had never happened. It’s the weirdest thing!

(Jen): It’s really weird how when I met Tina she wasn’t allergic to anything, but now, 6 years later, she has these weird reactions, and I feel like I need to carry extra medication with me just in case my “sick little friend” needs them!

Anyway, we have a tournament this weekend against all of the other teams in the league. It’s a preseason tournament. Our first game is Friday, and we are playing the #1 team from last year. We have put in quite a few plays in the past week so it will be nice to get to play against another team. And it will just be nice to see what the competition is like in this league.

I think some of our teammates are trying to plan a team dinner or something this weekend so that will be fun!

We’ll write more later in the week. God bless you all!

~Jen and Tina

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Wrapping Up Week 1

Bom dia!

I can’t believe we have already been here for one week – it flew by! It was very busy but really fun, too! We are surrounded by extremely friendly and helpful people which makes everything so much more enjoyable.

On a typical day, we have shooting practice/skill work at 10:30. Then we have the middle part of the day to eat, rest, go to the grocery store, or pretty much do whatever we want. Our evening practice is usually around 7:30. After practice, Jen and I eat dinner at a restaurant near the gym and then go home. The bus stops are very conveniently located near the gym and our apartment, but sometimes we just choose to walk home from practice because it’s so beautiful outside. I don’t know how much longer this beautiful weather will last before it starts to cool down so I’m going to enjoy it while I can!

Today (Saturday), we had a preseason scrimmage against another team in our league (Montijo). Their gym was about 30 minutes away. We drove with our GM, his wife, and our coach (José). It has been about 4 and a half months since Jen and I played in a basketball game so it was nice to get back out there. It certainly wasn’t the prettiest game in the world, but it was important to have a chance to get to know our teammates a little better on the court and move a step closer to being in game shape. Our coach loves to run the floor on offense and press on defense so there is never a chance to relax – it’s a very fun style of basketball!

I enjoyed the drive to and from the gym in Montijo. We still have not explored the city at all so it’s fun driving to places and seeing our surroundings. We drove over a bridge today, and they told us that it’s the longest bridge in Europe. They also have a bridge here (we can see it from our apartment) that looks exactly like the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. Our coach told us that that bridge and the Golden Gate Bridge were built by the same company around the same time. I haven’t been on it yet, but from a distance, they do look very similar.

When we got back to Algés, our GM took us out to lunch. Lunch was delicious. We had steak, broccoli, and french fries (and we tried some different kinds of fish – sardines, cod, and some kind of fish head! Jen loves fish so she really liked it. I’m not a huge fan, but it wasn’t bad). It was fun just eating and hanging out getting to know people better. After lunch, we went home and took naps! I felt like I slept for a whole night, but it was really only about an hour and a half.

We went to Mass at 7:15 at a church called Cristo Rei (Christ the King). It is right on our way to practice so that’s amazing! I had never been to Mass in Portugeuse before so that’s one more language I can add to the list J The universality of the Catholic Church is so beautiful! We are excited to go to the center of Lisbon and see the Cathedral, but for now we better stay close to home because I’m not sure we could find our way back! J

We have our first day off tomorrow so hopefully we will find something fun to do, but honestly, just laying around the apartment with my feet up sounds pretty fun at this point!!

I hope you are all having a great weekend!!!

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord. As high as the heavens are above the earth, so high are my ways above your ways and my thoughts above your thoughts.” –Isaiah 55:8-9

This is where we scrimmaged

Cristo Rei (Christ the King Catholic Church)

Walking home after dinner

Thursday, September 15, 2011

New Season / New Country / New Adventure

Hello from Portugal!

Jen and I are starting a new adventure in Portugal and decided to write a blog to keep our friends and family in the loop about what we are up to over here. We will post pictures and give little updates about our experiences and adventures. We kind of dropped the ball towards the end of our blog in Slovakia so this time we are going to try harder to post more consistently. We hope you enjoy it, and we would love to hear from all of you!!!

(Tina): Jen and I left the United States last Saturday. I flew from Phoenix to London and then London to Lisbon. It was a long day but nothing to complain about. I have a hard time getting good sleep on airplanes, but I was able to take about a 4 hour nap on a bench in London so that was nice :-) I arrived in Lisbon around 10:30 at night and was met at the airport by my coach (José) and the director of the team (Sara). It’s always a little interesting when you’re flying to a foreign country and you don’t know the people who will be picking you up, but I immediately felt comfortable with José and Sara. Both of them speak English which is extremely helpful! They drove me to our apartment and helped me get my baggage inside. Then we went out for my first meal in Portugal – McDonald’s. :-) It was after 11:00 at that point, so not much else was open. Normally, I NEVER eat McDonald’s in the United States, but there’s something about being overseas that makes McDonald’s taste so much better! After dinner they took me back to my apartment. I was tired, but for whatever reason, I couldn’t go to sleep until I unpacked all of my stuff. I finally got to bed around 3:30 in the morning. Sara and José picked me up around 8:00 the next morning to go get Jen from the airport.

(Jen): I left from Los Angeles late on Saturday night and flew to Philadelphia. I had a long layover in Philly so I got a hotel room to stay in for the day. When I arrived in Philly, I took a shuttle to the hotel, went to Denny’s to get some food, and then went to Mass. After Mass, I hung out in the hotel until my flight later that night. I arrived in Lisbon around 9:00 am Monday morning. I was excited to see Tina and meet my coach. I was pretty hungry so eating was near the top of my priorities. We dropped my bags off at the apartment and then went to a small café near the gym. Sara told us that this café had really big ‘toast’ which turned out to be similar to a Panini with chicken and cheese. When we ordered drinks, Tina got her usual agua, but I decided to get an ice cold chocolate milk – or so I thought. They asked me if I wanted the chocolate milk “fresh,” but since I didn’t really understand what “fresh” meant, I just told them that I wanted it cold. The next thing I knew, the man who worked there took a cold bottle of chocolate milk and heated it up with the espresso machine. I didn’t know what he was doing at first, but when I touched the bottle, it was really hot. Note to self: Now I know that fresh means cold and cold means hot! :-) When we were done eating, we went over to see the gym since our team was in the middle of morning practice. We didn’t stay long since Tina and I were both pretty tired. We went back to our apartment and took naps before practice that night. All of our teammates are nice and easy to talk to. Practice was a little tough for Tina and I after long days of traveling, but it felt good to get a good workout. After practice, we went out to an all-you-can-eat Chinese buffet with Tina, José, and Sara to wrap up a great first day in Portugal :-)

(Tina): We didn’t want to make this first post too long so I will just wrap it up with some random information/stories:

The club that we play for is called Algés. Apparently, it is a well-known club in Portugal, but it is not only a basketball club. They have gymnastics, swimming, judo, and all levels of basketball (boys, girls, men, women). It’s fun walking into practice and seeing a whole bunch of little kids running around. There is always something going on at the club.

The people that we have met so far have been amazing! Our coaches, teammates, GM, sponsors, the doctors and nurses who did our medical exam, the people we met at the grocery store, etc. have all been so helpful and friendly! There is also this one old woman at the restaurant where we eat who gives us tons of kisses and talks to us in Portuguese when we see sweet! We are looking forward to continuing to meet more people and getting to know them better.

We made our first trip to the grocery store which is always fun in a different country. Sara dropped us off at Lidl. We were excited to see Lidl because it was a common store in Slovakia so it was something familiar. We got basic groceries there but then decided to walk to the other grocery store that was nearby called Continente to see what they had. Continente had a lot more to choose from in terms of fruits, vegetables, meats, etc. We bought a few more things and then started walking back to our apartment. The walk from the store to the apartment is all uphill. We had our bags from practice and a lot of groceries so we probably stopped about 5 times for short breaks. It was not the most pleasant walk, but we needed food!

We are trying to learn our way around the city, and I think we’re doing pretty well. We have figured out the bus schedule to get to and from practice so that’s exciting! We were successful in getting to practice the first day we took the bus, but we learned an important lesson after missing the bus on the way home from practice. It’s not enough to just be sitting at the bus stop – you have to get up and sort of flag down the bus if you want it to stop! :-) After missing the bus, we decided to walk back to our apartment which turned out to be a great walk. We were with one of our teammates who is super sweet! I was pleasantly surprised to see that I sort of knew where I was going, too!

The weather is incredible!!! It is warm during the day and cool at nights. For those of you who know me, you know that I do not like extreme heat!!! You’d think I would be used to it after living in Arizona almost my whole life, but I’m not. Anyways, I’m loving it here. Jen and I were talking after practice the other night about how the weather is so perfect that we could be wearing shorts and a tank top or light pants and a light jacket and either combination of clothes would be comfortable. That’s good weather! :-)

Jen and I are still trying to get on a normal sleeping schedule. Her first night here we had every intention of going to bed “early”, but we ended up talking until about 5 in the morning. Each day we get into a little more of a routine so by the end of this week, I think we will be fully recovered and adjusted. With that said, I’m going to get ready for bed since it’s almost 1:30 and we have practice in the morning!

Thanks for reading our first blog!!! We’ll write more later this week! God bless all of you!

~Jen and Tina

Right outside of our gym

At dinner with a teammate

Our view from the bus stop

Our street

Taking a break!!!

Walking home from the grocery store

Outside of LiDL

At Continente


View from the front door

Tina's room

Jen's room

Living room