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Filipina Explorer is a travel blog that believes in the power of stories to connect us to the world, shape ideas, and move us to action. Read these stories from the archives.
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About Filipina Explorer
Hi! I'm Gretchen, a travel writer based in the Philippines. I created Filipina Explorer in 2009 to document my journeys through places, parenthood, and word weaving. This blog is a collection of those stories and everything in between.
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Of Itineraries and possibilities

These days it's easy to get discouraged to look forward to anything. "You know you are okay, but there's that sadness that comes and goes. You wonder what you're living for," a friend recently shared. I feel it too. That sadness, fragile, like a scab constantly aching to be scratched and bled.

Sometimes I worry that by the time a vaccine becomes available to us, we won't be the same anymore - that gusto, that keenness for life outside these walls. Lia has gotten used to stagnation. She won't even bike or walk 300 meters with me. It's too hard, she says. She'd rather stay at home, facing a screen than a sunset, the wind, fleeting figures. She used to love those. What huge change a year in isolation does to these young minds.

Before the pandemic, one of my favorite pastimes is researching destinations and plotting itineraries. I crafted Word file upon Word file of itineraries from scratch: a two-week LuzViMin trip using only ferries and buses, a 30-day Southeast Asia trip ending in Thailand, one for Alabat-Mercedes, another for a Bukidnon-ARMM loop. I'd get lost in the flurry of possibilities.

Those itineraries symbolized dreams. They were a reason - a stark one against the everyday reality of working to survive. I created them even If I'm not sure they will happen, because I had every hope that they will, even if it's 10, 20 years down the road.

We are ants, and the pandemic; the broken things it exposed and made even more broken is a mammoth's foot bearing down on us. The will to draft itineraries escapes me.

This morning I saw this photo. We were at the summit of Mt. Bagang in Zambales with friends. At high noon, the sun revealed an infinite expanse of mountains and a smattering of trees jutting out of ash from the 1990 eruption. Our guide was teaching Lia about cattails, and she listened intently. 

"Mama, cattails!" she wailed, her eyes wide with awe. She was in that moment, happy and content. We all were. 

I realized I'm not ready to give that up yet. I want to remain open for the things Lia can only learn and feel outside. I want to be there when they unfold.

I clicked my mouse. A blank page shows. On it, I typed "Catanduanes".

Letter #21: Nine

Hello, Lia.

Yesterday marked your second birthday in quarantine. In the old days, we'd go out into the world, our oversized backpacks brimming with zest for all things wild and undiscovered. Normally, I'd say change is life-enchanting, but we both know a pandemic is anything but.

You had your fair share of tears in the past year, each the color of sadness. Some were shed for classrooms whose walls are now merely imagined. Some for people whose hands you can only touch via a screen. Some for trees you cannot hug. Some for homes and still moments - in airports or long bus rides; at sea or in the mountains; head up to the sky or looking down the earth.

We are living amid a monumental shift, Lia. I wish I can assure you that beautiful things can be looked forward to with certainty. But like time, touch and sight are but gifts lent to us. We exist in impermanence, and the only way to make sense of it all is to live now, Here, with intention and gratitude.

So, today I hope to create space for gratitude. Despite the small world we now move in, like light, we can still move in it at our own speed, without contraptions and hooks. In spite of how grim the following days, weeks, and years might become, I have your resilience, humor, and wisdom to see them through with. And though tomorrow hangs in great uncertainty, I am grateful that we have us Here, now - dreaming, loving, fighting for the future, and making the best of what we have together, as we always do. This moment, what you feel Here and now, is real and certain. Never forget that.

Grateful to be Here on your ninth year on Earth, witnessing you soldier on,

PS - Your birthday was celebrated at home with your friends, Lola, and Lolo. You said it's your "best birthday ever".

The Myth of Balance

The most difficult moments in parenthood are often tucked in silence, away from the eyes of the kids. It's those times when stress overcomes you that you say something spiteful that you didn't mean, and you worry that you damaged your child. It's that time you realize she's already 8, with breast buds and a few stray armpit hairs to boot, and you didn't see much of it unfolding because you were busy juggling work and child rearing. It's those times you ask her to spend more time with you - this kid who once cannot stand losing sight of you - but she prefers to spend it with others.

It's those times you sneak a pint of tears talking to a friend amid work. You don't want your kid thinking you resent her, but the gravity of pain weighs more than what your heart can accommodate.

Parenthood is bittersweet, polarizing, and sometimes unfair. You feel like an awful parent if you can't provide. But you also feel awful when you toil like mad and miss out on their milestones. Balance is the key, they say.

Balance is an idyllic setting achieved with everything in the right proportion. What we sometimes fail to consider is that the equation is lopsided to begin with for parents working from the ground up without old money, charity, or networks to rely on. The parents from single-income households. The widowers. The abandoned. The single parents. The blue collar workers who need to work seven days a week to sustain a family.

This Women's Month and every single day moving forward, I celebrate mothers who, despite the odds being stacked against them, continue to dream and persevere for their children's welfare. Who get up to be and do better when they fail, when it's easier to choose old and worn habits. Who acknowledge they are not superhumans and seek forgiveness when they have wronged. Who work on personal baggage while ceaselessly serving as the pillars that keep their home safe from brittleness and disrepair. Who know balance is sometimes a privilege in this life but keep creating space for it, however small and familiar the act may be. There is no singular way to showcase balance, but there are a thousand ways to be compassionate to our children and to ourselves.

Natural Family Planning Methods and How They Work


Natural family planning refers to a birth control method that helps you avoid or achieve conception without contraception like pills and condoms. You avoid potentially adverse effects of incompatible pills and contraceptive devices when you choose natural family planning. But if you use this, you need to know the menstrual cycle and how it works.

The main focus of natural family planning is identifying a person’s fertility period, so you know the days to avoid having intercourse. To help you get started, here are some of the most common methods you can use for natural family planning.

Calendar Method

The calendar method is one of the oldest known ways of natural birth control. You make an educational guess about your fertility period by determining the patterns and “schedule” of your menstrual cycle. That is why it is also called the rhythm method.

The guessing game, if you will, begins by trying an ovulation calendar for a rough estimate. You can also study the pattern yourself by noting down the days of your period.

To use the calendar method, keep in mind that the average monthly cycle usually spans 28 to 32 days. You also need to first record your own cycle for 6 to 12 cycles as a baseline. After tracking these, do the following steps:

  1. Subtract 18 days from the end of the shortest of your previous cycles.

  2. Subtract 11 days from the longest of your previous cycles.

  3. Determine the gap between these two gets the estimated span of your fertility period.

Remember, the calendar method does not apply to all women, especially if you do not have a regular menstrual cycle. It is difficult to follow a pattern when there is no pattern to determine.

Illnesses, stress, medications, and other health conditions can also affect your cycle, making it difficult to predict when you ovulate. Hence, it is not uncommon for people to use the calendar method with other approaches.

Basal Body Temperature

Basal body temperature (BBT) refers to the temperature you have when you are fully at rest. During ovulation, this temperature increases by 0.2°C (0.4°F). Hence, when you notice this shift in BBT, you can identify the day that you ovulate.

To practice this method, you need a digital oral thermometer or acquire one specially designed to take BBT. Take your temperature each morning at the same time, just as you have woken up. This will help you determine your average BBT. An increase in temperature may signify ovulation, and you should continue to monitor it over three consecutive days.

The key drawback to the BBT method is it does not tell you when you are about to ovulate. It only shows you when you have most likely already ovulated. Hence, it becomes significantly useful for couples trying to conceive and not so much for those trying to avoid a pregnancy.

Cervical Mucus Tracking

In the span of a menstrual cycle, the cervix produces mucus. It refers to the gooey substance of the cervix that comes out as vaginal discharge. The mucus changes throughout the cycle, especially during ovulation. By tracking its changes in color, texture, amount, and consistency, you can gauge when you are fertile.

Here are the general observations on mucus after a person’s period:

  • Day 1-4 — no noticeable secretions

  • Day 5-9 — cloudy, sticky

  • Day 10-13 — abundant, clear, wet

When the mucus is abundant, clear, and wet, you are or are close to ovulating.

Similar to the previous methods, cervical mucus tracking comes with its pitfalls. Firstly, cervical mucus can vary significantly from one person to another. It is difficult to say for sure that a set of characteristics can pinpoint where you are at in your menstrual cycle.

Secondly, this method requires you to be consistent and diligent. You need to check your cervical mucus every day and jot it down in your menstrual chart. Because it is difficult to predict without practice, you cannot rely on this method alone if you are trying to avoid a pregnancy.

Symptothermal Method

The symptothermal method is, simply put, a combination of different approaches to natural family planning. It uses BBT, cervical mucus tracking, and the calendar method—among other approaches and devices—to help you gauge your fertility period.

In this method, you use cervical mucus tracking as a baseline and double-check the results with other methods. If all the results correspond to each other, you can make an educated guess when you are ovulating or if your ovulation is imminent.

Symptothermal method can help you more accurately determine the state of your body. Hence, it is often the go-to approach that a lot of people use for natural birth control.

Natural family planning is not easy, but it is can be accomplished. Make sure to do your due research and consult with your doctor to find the best method for your family planning needs.

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