Here I am, back from the dark cave of GRE prep.  In all my spare moments over the last two weeks, I’ve been working on algebraic equations and analogies in a corner of whatever room I’m in.  And now, it’s over.

I’ve gotten fantastic support from folks around the commune.  Yesterday I recieved dozens of  “good luck” hugs and “kick some ass” kisses.  A friend who lives down the road let me borrow her car this morning to drive the hour to Richmond, because our communal cars were officially “grounded” by our vehicle manager due to freezing rain.  Inge, the vehicle manager, saw me this morning as I was getting ready to leave.  She told me in her thick German accent:  “If you slide into a ditch, it’s your own money, not ours.”

Upon returning to the farm this afternoon, eager friends asked me how it went.  The answer: grueling, exhausting, and ultimately rewarding.  Since the tests are now done on a computer, you get your scores instantly after finishing.  I’m happy with my 1400, and thrilled with a 770 (out of 800) in math.  Is it in bad taste to post my scores on my blog?  Oh well, there it is, for all the world to see!  Not bad, after 5 years out of school.  I drove down the highway whooping with joy after  leaving the three-hour test.  This feels like a major hurdle jumped with grace.  I’m happy — beyond happy, exhilerated — to be done with this part of getting to grad school.  Now I just need to complete to application essay within the next month, and get my letters of reccomendation together.  Piece of cake, after this beast.

Throughout all of this, we’ve been working on the commune’s budgets for next year.  The managers of individual areas have all submitted their requests for money and labor, and the Econ Team and the Planners have been meeting over the past 2 days to reconcile all of the requests with the numerical realities (is that an oxymoron?) of our projected income and population.

This year, the money requests totaled $150,000, and we needed to cut down to $137,300.  We did a first round of “easy cuts”, skimming through the list of 75 areas for budget requests that seemed unrealistic or wiggleable.  In this round, we cut Commie Clothes from $1500 to $1350, slashed the Holiday  budget from $800 to $400, and cut Library in half (meaning we’ll only get communal subscriptions to 5 magazines instead of 10)… and many more $25-$900 cuts in nearly every area.  When we finished that first round, we still had several thousands of dollars left to cut, so we looked at our big budgets: Food, Dental, and Health.  We cut Food by $3000, Dental by $1700, and Health by $1400.  The realities of loosing Pier One as a Hammocks customer are staring us in the face.  In 2004 our Food budget was over $50,000 — this year we’re looking at a budget of $30,500.

Labor seems to be a similar situation this year.  I missed most of today’s Labor discussions because I was taking the GRE, but I came in for the last part of the afternoon.  There was a 20,000 hour difference between managerial requests and projected available labor (which we determine by projecting population for the next year — 85 — and setting weekly labor quota, and then multiplying by 45.5 weeks, accounting for approximately 6.5 weeks of vacation per member per year).   We ended the afternoon asking if we should raise quota to give us more hours to work with, and we ended up deciding to raise it by one hour per week, to 44, giving us almost 4,000 more hours with which to work.

This isn’t the end of the budget process, though.  Once we’ve finished the “Planner Takes”, it goes to the community.  Each member gets to do this process on co’s own, trying to balance the budget in co’s own way, given the managerial requests and the Planner Takes, along with past years’ budget and spending information.  This whole process is called the “Trade Off Game.”  Once the community members have completed their individual games, the Planners and the Econ Team take the community average and compare it with the Planner Takes.  Budgets with significant discrepancies are then reconsidered, and budgets adjusted accordingly.

This year we’re organizing group games, a party where folks can get together and work on the budget in groups.  Our hope is that this will make the process more collective and less alienating.  Many folks here don’t like the Trade Off Game because it seems pointless and ineffective.  The Planners and the Econ Team put days of work into creating the balanced “Planner Takes”, and the final budgets rarely vary much from those numbers. It seems like more of a “checks and balances” process than significant community input, though I might have a different perspective after going through the whole shebang from this side of the fence.

How’s that for an update?  I took some pictures of the famed Playground of Death a few weeks ago, and I plan to post them with a description soon… stay tuned!