Loss for words

I've started and restarted this blog post about a dozen times. I am going to spare you the "I'm so happy it hurts" monologue, and just show you some pictures instead. I am currently staying in Tulum, Mexico, before heading to Cancun to do some wedding henna. 

Yesterday I had a great day in Cancun. My friend Flori lives there, and I was invited to her daughter's birthday party, complete with a Marimba band, home-made sopes, and a chocolate fountain. I got to practice my Spanish as her whole family is from Mexico City, and even hennaed her mom and dad. What a fun day!

Pro Tip: DON'T swim for 24 hours after your henna application. Here is me, breaking my own rule, and yes my henna is fading as a result of excessive water exposure. It's recommended that you wait until after you wedding to take a swim, if you are trying to preserve your mehndi. 

Swimming in the Caribbean

The whole Mayan Riviera has many things to do, from visiting ruins, cenotes, relaxing on the beach, and watching the changing clouds. I love showing people the area and took my friend to one of the cenotes. They are formed because the whole area is limestone, with a huge network of underground rivers. When the limestone on top caves in a cenote is formed, which can be like a swimming pool in the middle of the jungle, or even a cave complete with bats living in it, stalactites and stalagmites. 

Other activities can be as simple as climbing a water tower to watch the sun set over the jungle, and posing for silly selfies. 

Bong Seon Hwa - The Korean Art of finger dye

Yesterday I met with one of my clients who is having a "fusion" wedding. She is Korean-American, and her fiance is of Indian descent. The bride is planning to have her hands decorated with a traditional Indian-style mehndi, and she was drawn to the solid colored fingertips of the Indian designs. That reminded me of the Korean tradition of coloring fingernails with the ground leaves of Impatiens Balsamina. Women color their fingernails in the Spring, and it is said that if the color lasts until the first snow, they will marry their true love. Interestingly, the dye molecule in that flower is the same exact chemical structure as the dye in henna (Lawsonia Inermis). That molecule is called "lawsone". While my client said that she has already found many unifying elements in her partnership with her fiance, it was a surprise for her to find out about this beautiful Korean tradition that overlaps with the Indian customs of her soon-to-be family.

Here are some interesting articles discussing how to use the flower to dye the nails, and more details and references to the Korean traditions. 

http://www.bookishgardener.com/2004/08/ibongsunghwai_n.html

http://jejulife.net/2008/10/24/bong-seon-hwa-dyeing-fingernails-a-yearly-traditional-korean-custom-by-sherrin-hibbard-jeju-south-korea/

http://mylinguistics.wordpress.com/2009/07/02/orange-colored-nails/

 

Impatiens Balsamina, photo Wikipedia

Impatiens Balsamina, photo Wikipedia

Bong Seon Hwa courtesy of TheBookishGardener.com

Bong Seon Hwa courtesy of TheBookishGardener.com

Nails covered in plant dye, photo courtesy JejuLife.com

Nails covered in plant dye, photo courtesy JejuLife.com

 

 

Wedding in Puerto Vallarta

I had the opportunity to take a quick trip down to Puerto Vallarta for a destination wedding in the area. It was a fusion wedding, and the bride was very excited to get her first henna ever, as were many of her bridesmaids. Because there would be both a Sikh and a Western ceremony, we chose a floral, not too heavy pattern to complement her multiple outfits, and also in keeping with the tropical feeling of the Mexican coastline. Puerto Vallarta has grown quite a bit since I first visited it in the late 90's and now the whole north part of the area is developed with big resorts, but the old town, where I decided to stay, is still cute with cobblestoned streets and no building taller than a palm tree.  Mexico is still one of my favorite places in the world! 

The bride's palms, light and airy, with a tropical touch.

The bride's palms, light and airy, with a tropical touch.

More flowers!

More flowers!

Her feet were my favorite, such a luxury to have beautifully decorated feet!

Her feet were my favorite, such a luxury to have beautifully decorated feet!

This is where we did the mehndi party, near the infinity edge pool at Dreams Villamagna, with dark clouds in the horizon. 

This is where we did the mehndi party, near the infinity edge pool at Dreams Villamagna, with dark clouds in the horizon. 

Her bridesmaids were very excited about their first hennas.

Her bridesmaids were very excited about their first hennas.

I fell in love with this girl's nails. Looked like blingy-bindis for the nails!

I fell in love with this girl's nails. Looked like blingy-bindis for the nails!

Walking along the malecon, with wind in the palms, the cathedral was all lit up, the crown jewel of Puerto Vallarta.

Walking along the malecon, with wind in the palms, the cathedral was all lit up, the crown jewel of Puerto Vallarta.

How to Get a Dark Henna Stain in 4 Easy Steps

A common worry of Indian brides is "will I get a dark henna stain?" Folklore says that the darker the stain, the greater the love of the husband, and in some cases, the more the bride's mother in law will like her! Superstitions aside, a beautiful henna stain is always desirable, and it's not hard to achieve. In fact, the main ingredients are fresh henna and a large dose of patience.

Fresh henna is mixed by the mehndi artist especially for your event. Fresh henna does not come from a "Rani cone" your auntie brought back from India or Pakistan on her last trip. Fresh henna does not have chemicals or "secret" ingredients in it. Fresh henna does not smell like kerosene or hair dye.  And fresh henna is never black! A reputable artist will tell you their ingredients and will talk you through the process of caring for your design.

Step one: the mehndi is applied to clean skin that is free of any oils or lotions. Darcy  used an organically cultivated henna from Rajasthan and mixed it with distilled water, sugar, and pure essential oils of Cajeput and Cardamom.

Freshly applied henna sometimes looks blackish, but the real stain is below the surface of the paste.

Freshly applied henna sometimes looks blackish, but the real stain is below the surface of the paste.

Step 2: Once dry, the mehndi is sealed with a sugar solution. The stickiness of the sugar keeps it, well, stuck to you. The longer it remains in place, the better. A minimum of 4-6 hours is recommended. Traditionally 8 hours or overnight is preferred. You can gently wrap your mehndi in tissue or gauze to avoid mehndi crumbs in your bed. If you use saran wrap, always put a layer of absorbent tissue first. Sweating can melt or dislodge your mehndi while you sleep.

Step 3: After 4-8 hours (or overnight), gently pick off the henna paste, or rub it off with a paper towel. Never wash it off or you will ruin the stain. It should be a bright orange color when you pick it off. If possible avoid water for an additional 12 hours. If this is not possible, generously oil your design with coconut oil, shea butter, or any other greasy vegetable-based oil. For our demonstration design, we oiled up with coconut oil and showered immediately. The water beads up and rolls off the oil barrier.

Immediately after picking off the paste, the stain is orange. But don't panic!!

Immediately after picking off the paste, the stain is orange. But don't panic!!


All oiled up.

All oiled up.

Step 4: Continue to avoid water. You will see your design start to darken as it oxidizes throughout the day.

24 hours after the paste is removed, the henna has reached a rich reddish brown color, considered by many to be optimal. The stain will always be darkest on the palms, where the thicker skin can absorb more henna, and lighter toward the thin skin of the wrists and arms.

Stain at 24 hours is a rich reddish brown.

Stain at 24 hours is a rich reddish brown.

48 hours after paste removal the stain can go even darker on some skin. We had some fun with our new camera's "art filters" and played with a "grainy film" setting and a "cross process" setting for some high-contrast  shots which really highlight how dark the henna got. Yet, all this is achievable with a high-quality natural henna. If you're patient,  you too can get results like this for your wedding henna. You will notice this design shows up especially well in photographs because of the negative space. Sometimes an overly-busy design just shows up as dirty hands in wedding photos. Even a small amount of open space will make the overall design "pop". These kinds of high-contrast and super-saturated images are typical of dramatic wedding photographers capturing the color and texture of an Indian wedding.

Cross-processed image makes the henna look even darker!

Cross-processed image makes the henna look even darker!

Leaving negative space in the design helps the henna show up well even in a black and white image.

Leaving negative space in the design helps the henna show up well even in a black and white image.

How to Get a Dark Henna Stain in 4 Easy Steps

A dark stain begins with Fresh Henna.

Ok so it's really 5 steps. Before everything else, you'll need to get your hands on some fresh, natural henna powder from a reputable henna supplier. May we humbly suggest our tried and true henna paste recipe here

The crushed leaves of the henna plant. 

The crushed leaves of the henna plant. 

Patience, Young Grasshopper:

Step one: the henna paste is applied to clean skin that is free of any oils or lotions. 

Step 2: Once dry, the henna design is sealed with a sugar solution (we use sugar and water in a misting bottle). The stickiness of the sugar keeps it, well, stuck to you. The longer it remains in place, the better. A minimum of 6-8 hours is recommended. Traditionally henna is left on overnight. You can gently wrap your mehndi in tissue to keep it in place. Avoid cling-wrap, which can cause sweating.

Step 3: After 6-8 hours (or overnight), gently pick off the henna paste, or rub it off with a paper towel. Never wash it off or you will halt the staining process. It should be a bright orange color when you pick it off. 

Step 4: Avoid water for an additional 12-24 hours. If this is not possible, generously oil your design with coconut oil, shea butter, or any other greasy vegetable-based oil.  You will see your design start to darken as it oxidizes throughout the day. Natural henna requires about 24 - 48 hours to reach its darkest point. The stain will always be darkest on the palms, where the thicker skin can absorb more henna, and lighter toward the thin skin of the wrists and arms for a beautiful ombré effect. 

 

Freshly applied mehndi. It looks blackish, but this is not black henna, the stain is happening below the surface of the paste.

Freshly applied mehndi. It looks blackish, but this is not black henna, the stain is happening below the surface of the paste.

Immediately after picking off the henna paste, the stain is bright orange. Don't panic!

Immediately after picking off the henna paste, the stain is bright orange. Don't panic!

If you MUST shower, be sure to protect your design with oil.

If you MUST shower, be sure to protect your design with oil.

The stain at 24 hours is so beautiful!

The stain at 24 hours is so beautiful!

Top 5 Tips for Planning a Destination Wedding

We all know that there are some circumstances beyond our control, especially when it comes to weddings and "developing" countries. While you may not be able to prevent the inevitable family dramas and drunken uncles, there are some disasters that can easily be averted with a little planning.

1. Choose your vendors carefully and have a backup plan - Probably the biggest complaint of destination wedding couples is unprofessional vendors. Hire a local event coordinator to act as a liaison between you and your vendors. This is particularly helpful if your destination is not an English speaking location. Make sure you have contracts in place for each and every vendor and be triple sure your venue and catering are confirmed. If a vendor doesn't offer you great communication right from the start, that is often a sign of worse things to come. Of course you want to support the local economy as much as you can, but know where to draw the line!

Here are a couple shaky scenarios with backup plans that are easy to implement:

 Hair and makeup artists can be hit or miss and you probably won't have time for a trial run beforehand, so have a back-up plan in place in case the local makeup artist turns you into a 70's porn star. We all have that one friend who practically lives at the MAC counter. Let her know she is "on call", and for goodness sake, bring your own foundation in a color that matches your skin. In a worst-case scenario where you end up doing your own makeup, choose a universally flattering bronze palette, perfect for a beachy vibe.

Many local hair and makeup artists have no experience with Indian Bridal dressing, so recruit several aunties to help you drape your sari, or set your dupatta.

Many hands and a few safety pins!

Many hands and a few safety pins!

For freshness, a local floral vendor is a must. If you end up with a flaky florist though, all is not lost. Back up plan? Have your bestie ready to make a run to the flower market to throw together some last minute centerpieces. Rescued tin cans or glass jars cost next to nothing, and somehow, anything looks cute in a Mason jar.

Save the day with recycled materials and a riot of colors.

Save the day with recycled materials and a riot of colors.

With a needle and some strong thread or dental floss, you can make your own garlands in a pinch. These rose garlands are just as lovely as carnations or jasmine, and smell divine. Aren't you glad you've been hoarding those free sewing kits?

One of Henna Lounge's couples, Archita and Sean, look divine in their rose garlands. Photo by www.skogueasinvogue.com

One of Henna Lounge's couples, Archita and Sean, look divine in their rose garlands. Photo by www.skogueasinvogue.com

2. Schedule in some downtime - There is so much to do in exotic locations that it's easy  to schedule activities for every minute of the trip. Life in the tropics happens at a different pace however. It can take longer to get around due to cows (or coatimundis!) in the road, a random police checkpoint, or a spontaneous Margarita pitstop.  If you are planning adventures for your wedding guests, schedule in a buffer zone between activities. You'll want some alone time for you and your partner to enjoy your time together, take a break from the Paparazzi  (seriously, your cheeks may actually be sore from smiling) and take care of any last minute details (toenail polish?). Your guests will appreciate the chance to sneak in a siesta, as they may be tired from late nights involving far too much tequila, time-zone differences, or the stress of traveling with toddlers. Pro Tip: If you are planning to have your mehndi done, schedule a relatively quiet day 2 days prior to the wedding, with a minimum of 4-5 hours for the artwork to take place. Be aware that the following day's activities should be on dry land to avoid ruining the henna stain. Chemical sunscreens can also accelerate the fading of henna. 

ashley_champagne_henna.jpg

Seriously, take a break. 

3. Prepare for rain - Due to global climate change, the weather is more unpredictable than ever. Even a desert can get a sudden shower, and tropical latitudes are particularly prone. No matter what the records and averages may say, Murphy's law seems to override all predictions, and deliver downpours just when you don't want them. Have a backup plan to move your ceremony indoors at the last minute or you could be "trashing the dress" ahead of schedule. 

This was August in Cabo, and they hadn't had a drop of precipitation in almost 3 years, then BAM.

This was August in Cabo, and they hadn't had a drop of precipitation in almost 3 years, then BAM.

4. Splurge on a mehndi artist, photographer, and officiant - Some destination locations simply don't have specialty vendors such as mehndi artists.  And worse, some parts of the world offer "black henna" which isn't henna at all, but a toxic chemical which can cause blisters, allergic reactions, or scarring.  Do yourself a favor and bring your mehndi artist to guarantee you get the designs you want in safe and natural henna. Keep in mind, the big hotel chains or all-inclusive resorts may try to charge you as much as $1000 for bringing in a "non-approved" vendor. Avoid the cookie-cutter resorts and have your wedding at small locally-owned hotel or Bed and Breakfast. And speaking of relatives doing your mehndi, while it may be tempting to save money by having an artsy auntie do it,  there have been just a few too many brides left in tears by henna that turned out looking, ahem, a little too much like abstract expressionism. Leave it to the pros and let your aunties enjoy the party.

Nailed it. 

Nailed it. 

The other big  splurge is the photographer of your dreams. Weddings are such a personal thing, you want your photographer to focus, no pun intended, on your priorities. You can't afford any "lost in translation" moments here. Your photographer should have experience shooting South Asian or fusion weddings. You don't want him to be changing the battery when you are exchanging garlands, or miss that moment when the bride's sisters are stealing the groom's shoes! On the flip side,  advantages of a local photographer are that they know all the scenic spots for couples portraits, the nuances of light in that location, and can be quite a bit less expensive. Choose well my friend! You will never regret hiring the very best photographer you can afford.

And lastly, your officiant may need to be brought with you. Whether it's bringing a Hindu priest from your temple, or having your sister become an ordained minister at the Universal Life Church, you'll need someone reliable, and knowledgable in your traditions, to perform the ceremonies for you.

 

Now for the Top Tip. Drumroll please...it's not what you think, but couldn't be easier....

5. Bring Insect Repellent - Don't say I didn't warn you. A sure way to be miserable at your tropical destination is to get eaten alive by mosquitos and no-see-ums. Unless you want to be scratching your way through your ceremony, and speckled with red welts, you will need industrial strength insect repellent and you will need to apply it religiously. You may also want to bring an over-the-counter cortisone cream and Benadryl or a non-drowsy antihistamine in case you do get bitten. Remember, Benadryl and alcohol do not mix, so if you're going to take shots of Benadryl for those bug bites, don't be taking shots of the local moonshine.

Well, she is still adorable but...

Well, she is still adorable but...

We really hope these tips help you avoid some of the most common mishaps of destination weddings. After all, it is supposed to be fun and relaxing, not stressful and itchy! Stay loose and you are sure to enjoy the spontaneous moments that arise. Let us know, what's your best tip for planning a destination wedding?

Stalker Bride

Stalker Bride

A New Year's Eve Indian fusion wedding in San Francisco with henna and cookies by Darcy Vasudev

A pretty good year...

A pretty good year...

New Year's Eve was a little bittersweet for me this time around, because 2013 was a phenomenal year, and it's going to be hard to top! Last year's adventures took me quite literally around the world....