Meadowdance Community Group
Questions and Answers
Created 1/10/1998; last updated 04/21/2007 by Ken Winchenbach Walden
04/20/2007 - Updating information
If you're interested in Meadowdance, you don't have to agree with everything said here. If you don't at least agree with the major themes, however, this may not be the group for you.
Meadowdance is an egalitarian, child-centered community that welcomes human diversity, ecological sensibility, mutual learning and joy.
We envision coming together to a place so that we may better live in accordance with our beliefs, and for the joy of community. We believe that all people have high and equal value, and that respect for all living things has priority over material wealth.
We are committed to living our values personally, in the community and in the outside world. We respect people of all races, ethnicities, creeds, ages, genders, sexual orientations, abilities, spiritualities and experiences.
We undertake to create a community in which adults and children can share their lives through work, learning and play and grow with nurturing and support. We will work to provide the basic necessities of life to our community, including food, shelter, health care and mutual support. We are building a diverse rural community that values ecological sustainability, respect and support for children, economic stability, mindfulness, beauty, harmony, simplicity, creativity, joy, honesty, trust, music and fun. We work to grow strong, long-term connections among members and with the outside community. We continually seek to work together, learn together and teach together as much as possible, unifying our working and living into a single environment.
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We formed this community in order to be able to live in a way that is consonant with our values, goals, and ideals. You might be interested in the community if you are interested in:
Intentional communities have a broad range of goals and values. It's probably fair to say that communities that clearly define these goals and values have a stronger tendency to be successful than communities that don't. Our major goals and values include:
Meadowdance currently lives on a property in Walden, Vermont. We renovated this building and moved here in the winter/spring of 2004. Here we have a few acres with a barn and farmhouse. This location doesn't have a lot of room for expansion, but we don't have any current plans to relocate or build. Currently we are focusing on raising our children and living together.
Currently we are three adults and five children. We hope to find ways for a few more families to join us, yet we want our community to remain small enough to maintain the social structure we envision.
The short answer is that no single person is in charge. We use a participatory, inclusive decision-making process that allows everyone to have a voice in major decisions. Specific groups and individuals are given responsibility for smaller decisions and day-to-day administration of particular areas of the community.
The decision-making process we use is called formal consensus. Popularly, the word "consensus" is used to mean that everyone gets into a room until they all agree on something. Formal consensus is a specific structured process in which a group discusses a proposal until a sense of what to do emerges from a structured process revolving around identifying and attempting to resolve concerns.
Well-administered formal consensus is efficient, fulfilling, and inclusive, and tends to produce much better solutions than most other forms of decision-making. It works well for groups like ours, where there is a strong desire to work together and a shared sense of purpose.
Please note that this description of consensus is very broad. There's an excellent document about it available online at http://www.ic.org/pnp/ocac/index.html.
We've been using this process since 1999, and have been very pleased with the results to date, in that we have been able to solve contentious issues in a way that addresses everyone's concerns, and in that our proposals have tended to improve from the input of many participants. Thus our eventual decisions are better than any one of us could originally have suggested. We gain peace of mind by having full agreement on decisions we make. This is an advantage not to be underestimated!
Consensus is different from voting, since the goal is not to count opinions, but to come to a decision that everyone can live with by means of discussion and shared goals.
Day to day and specialized decisions are generally made by caretakers, who are responsible for monitoring and being proactive about specific areas of the community. For instance, our Meals caretakers make sure that we have all the food we need and that individual needs and preferences are taken into account; our Librarian set up the initial organization of books, videos, and music; our Administrator makes sure the bills are paid and correspondence is answered; and so on. All of these caretakers are empowered to act on their own, but if ever anyone has a serious disagreement with how something was (or is about to be) done, that person can bring the issue to the community consensus process, which can overrule the caretaker.
Meadowdance honors, nurtures, challenges, and values children (and us big kids too). We have formed a community free school where children can learn both in and out of the classroom, drawing on the skills and experience of the entire community and led by their own personal interests and enthusiasms. A well-stocked learning center is important for children's education. We also have hopes that we will be able to be a support to and a resource for local home-schooling families.
Community parents have the option of deciding how they wish their children to learn, for instance by homeschooling, in the community free school, even attending a local public or private school--or some combination. However, the community does not necessarily pay for outside private schooling at this point.
Children have a special status until they become Full Members (if they ever decide to do so). As children, they have input into and can participate in community decisions.
Meadowdancers work together in caring for children, although the parents always have primary responsibility.
Overall, Meadowdance children have a great opportunity to participate in life and work, to spend more time with their parents (if they wish), and to play and learn with other children and caring adults.
One key question for any intentional community is that of "glue": what holds the community together? Our community has the benefit of several kinds of "glue", including:
We have found examples of a number of communities that have found several of these points to be effective glue. The only types of stronger glue that have come to our attention are a shared religion and/or a charismatic leader, neither of which is appropriate to our group, and both of which have their own limitations.
The essence of community glue is that it acts as a way to preserve the strength and membership of the community in difficult times. Our experience is that we find the kinds of glue we have described above--our children's well-being, strong personal relationships, financial stability, a sense of place, a meaningful role--are the kinds of things that keep us involved and committed.
Living sustainably, and lightly on the earth, our goals we keep in mind every day. We don't have the resources to do all of the wonderful things we can envision, but we try to make every decision in light of these values. Currently we grow some of our own food, and have just added some hens to our barn to provide us with eggs. That's an aspect of our rural life that we try to grow a little bit more every year.
There are a great many details associated with this kind of approach, many more than we can list here. However, here are some of the goals and practices that we may expect to either start with or develop over time:
Our community is not religious, in that it is not dedicated to one religion and does not use religious considerations in its planning or governance. However, the community is supportive of individual members' religions and spiritualities, and there may be opportunities for groups within the community that share a specific religion to come together on their own. Meadowdancers who participate in organized religion generally attend services in the local community or in nearby towns.
For information on our current agreements, please browse through our agreements page.
For many people, the term "intentional community" doesn't ring a bell even though the idea has been in use for thousands of years. In essence, an intentional community is a group of people coming together in a particular place to live in some particular way. The variety of intentional communities is nearly infinite: some are religious, some are not; politics run the gamut; they are large and small, rural and urban, ecologically minded and materialistic. They include monasteries, communes, anarchic squatter houses, cooperative housing, co-housing, kibbutzim, Christian activist communities, Shaker communities, and many other kinds of groups. It's hard to generalize very much from these disparate kinds of living situations.
One of the few things that can be said about most intentional communities across the board is that they are built on a stronger sense of shared purpose and shared lifestyle than is common in a conventional setting. People know each other better, work and/or play together, and in most cases share some values, goals, or beliefs. There are real advantages to living in a place of this kind for people who are interested in being an integral part of their communities.
The real power of this idea is the thought that the conventional ways people live in the Western world today are not the only ways to live. For Meadowdance, this is attractive because we can build a place where people are supportive rather than dismissive of children; where ecology is a primary focus rather than an afterthought; and where value is placed on people, relationships, and the natural world rather than on money and possessions.
The term "community" is often used as shorthand for "intentional community"; however, this is not meant to imply that intentional communities are the only kind of real community there are, only to help get around the fact that "intentional community" is such a mouthful.
Generally speaking, no. The term "commune" can mean many different things, most of which revolve around a shared economy. In this sense, communes are intentional communities, but most intentional communities are not communes. Some people associate communes with anarchy, drug use, irresponsibility, lack of financial stability, impermanence, and/or a "hippie" lifestyle. These associations don't apply to most intentional communities, so the term "commune" is often not a helpful one when talking about intentional communities.
Although Meadowdance provides for all of the basic necessities of life, we do not fully share all income, resources, assets, or possessions, and therefore Meadowdance is not a commune based on the above definition.
There are many intentional communities out there, so if ours doesn't appeal to you and you are interested in intentional communities, very likely someone else's will. One option that's becoming increasing popular is co-housing, where members purchase houses (and sometimes land) individually. Co-housing members also are usually dependent on individual incomes, but share some meals, child care, gardens, and other amenities. Generally speaking, a co-housing community is not as close-knit as the kind of community we are building.
Other communities share all income, or live together but have separate incomes. Some are religious; there are particularly a large number of Christian communities, as well as a wide variety of communities with a general spiritual purpose, but no community religion per se. Some communities are dedicated to charity missions; some are specifically for gay men and/or lesbians. Some promote polyfidelity (group marriage), nudism (a.k.a. "clothes optional"), and/or other specific sexual or personal practices.
One great resource for finding out about intentional communities is the Fellowship for Intentional Community (FIC), which can be found on the World Wide Web at http://www.ic.org. They can be contacted as follows:
Fellowship for Intentional Community
Route 1 Box 155-WEB
Rutledge MO 63563-9720
Phone/Fax: +1 (660) 883-5545
Not too similar, no. Certainly we share many individual features with various other communities: things like our ecological values, egalitarianism, consensus process, clustered housing design, rural location, and so on. But there are also several features of Meadowdance that are rare or unique among intentional communities, for instance:
Within limits established by consensus, the community covers 100% of a member's healthcare needs.
The community also has opportunities to benefit the health of members by spreading around information on nutrition, health, and healthful living. We feel that our healthy lifestyle enhances our ability to reduce healthcare costs.
Right now we all share a large cooperative house. We may wish to build more separate homes at a later date.
There is no investment requirement, and to the extent it is practical each family's or individual's housing will ultimately be based on individual preference, with the provision that the housing choices not be contrary to the community agreements. An example: a trophy home with six bedrooms and an Olympic-size pool for a family of three is contrary to some of our economic and ecological agreements and would not be an option.
The placement of housing is more of a community than an individual decision, although both are involved. We have a strong desire to plan housing in a manner that allows individual choice, is ecologically sound, is economically sensible, that ensures a reasonable amount of privacy, and that supports our sense of community and other goals. Housing design is also a collaboration between the first residents of that home and the community, with the community being the final authority. It is important to us to build housing that can meet the needs of different individuals and families over a number of decades.
So the housing options are based on the practical and financial considerations for the community as a whole.
When a person or family becomes part of the community, some kind of reasonable and comfortable housing will be provided. That housing might be just the kind of thing the new member wants, or if the community can't manage that immediately, the new member might need to live in housing that is less like what they want until such money or housing is available.
There is no requirement to have money to join Meadowdance: we do accept loans from members. Lending money to Meadowdance is an option, and loans cannot be recalled. Repayment is made at a time that is convenient to the community, along with a small percentage of interest. As an egalitarian community, people from all economic strata are welcome and lending money to the community does not impact on one's level of housing or status in the community.
Regardless of a member's ability or desire to lend money to the community, housing is determined by need. It's important to realize that even if a new member comes into the community with a substantial amount of money, this is not necessarily a guarantee that the desired kind of housing will be available to that person or family. Loans to the community are used as most needed or most appropriate within the community regardless of the source, and decisions about it's use are made by the whole group.
Loans are secured through community ownership of land, buildings, businesses, and other major assets. It's not a guarantee that any money that is loaned will definitely be covered to the last dime if a person leaves or something happens to the community, nor a guarantee that loans can quickly or easily be refunded. However, it is a guarantee that there is something of predictable value that can ensure return of at least a substantial percentage of a person's loan, should there ever be a need.
While hardly anyone enjoys dwelling on the subject of failure, the fact is that many intentional communities do fail. The majority appear to fail through financial problems and/or through difficulties among individuals. Differences in values can split a community apart, as can inadequate financial reserves and inadequate income.
Should the community fail, we will be able to sell the land, buildings, and other major community assets in order to pay back loans, so that no member who lends money to the community need worry that he or she will be left with nothing. Members might then join other communities or decide to form a different kind of community, or form a community in a different way, or simply go their own ways. Some disposition of community businesses may add to this pool.
We have discussed working out agreements with other intentional communities with similar values to guarantee a temporary home to one another's members should any of the communities in the agreement fail. If we can create this kind of partnership, members of all involved communities should be able to feel as though they have a strong safety net.
It is not possible to consider the community an absolute guarantee of stability. However, we are taking a number of steps to help ensure our success. Luc has compiled a list of factors in the success of intentional communities garnered over the course of a few years. The information in that list is based on observations from members of other communities and histories of past communities that have succeeded and failed. It's available online at http://www.meadowdance.org/success.htm.
By beginning the community with a statement of values and goals and instituting membership and agreement processes, we can have some confidence that members share values and goals, and thereby avoid that kind of split. By allowing for division of the community in the future (that is, budding off a new community), we make it possible for there to be some issue which divides the community irreconcilably without that issue destroying it. By careful and realistic financial planning, and by diversifying with a variety of community businesses, we can as much as possible ensure financial success. These are some of the ways in which we hope our planning will give us an extra measure of stability and a strong likelihood of long-term success as a community.
No. Our model does have a full-time work requirement, so there is shared work and responsibility, but members are free to work more than the requirement to earn additional income within or outside the community. The work requirement is a full-time commitment, unless at some point in the future (as we hope) we can take advantage of the efficiencies of living in community to reduce the requirement significantly below a normal full-time workweek.
Our goal with the work requirement is to have a stable, dynamic system in which everyone knows he or she will have all of life's basic necessities (and some "basic luxuries") taken care of in exchange for a set amount of work. We also want people to have the freedom to have additional possessions, to travel, to help support friends or relatives, and do other things with income of their own if they so choose: in other words, to use money in ways that are within community agreements and important to an individual, but too expensive for the community to provide. In this way a person can choose to live a simpler lifestyle and not have to work as much, or alternatively can work more and have more things. We do wish to have a lifestyle that doesn't foster the habit of ever-increasing consumption that is common in the West today, and we are explicitly non-materialistic. At the same time, we recognize that everyone has different needs, and do not wish to dictate the specifics of how a person must live as long as we can all agree on some basic guidelines.
The community's economic state will play an important role in determining what kind of work, can be done for additional income at any given time, as well as the size of the work requirement.
There are two primary ways in which we make our living. The first is working in community businesses to generate income, and the second is doing things the community needs done to reduce the need for cash and take care of basic daily needs.
Two other options are working outside the community (see the section below, "What if I want to keep a regular outside job?") and working in community businesses for private income. Individuals or small groups may run businesses or some other private for-profit activity on community grounds. A fifth possibility is working on an activity funded by an outside grant, which would also bring income into the community. Grant-based work to further a cause important to an individual or a community as a whole is very much consonant with our values and plans, but we expect to need to do substantial groundwork if we hope to do any of this kind of work.
We have discussed whether or not there might not be business opportunities that contribute to ecological sustainability, and are actively interested in pursuing these kinds of avenues.
At present, our income comes from Wordsworth Typing and Transcription, our home business. Wordsworth serves our clients over the Internet, and therefore can be taken with us when we move.
We're also enthusiastic about some other ideas, for example permaculture-based businesses (heritage seeds, growing herbs/roots/mushrooms), a café/gathering place/entertainment venue in town, a retreat center/conference center/sustainable spa, a bed-and-breakfast with stables for horse owners and enthusiasts, expanding our community school, etc. At this point, though, these businesses are only possibilities.
The businesses the community chooses to pursue are chosen based on criteria that will include the following:
Some businesses might exist outside the physical community. One of the benefits of this kind of business is the relationships it helps to cultivate with the people who live in the surrounding area. Businesses that exist outside the community still contribute to relationships among community members because they work together in a setting that is an extended part of the community, in addition to bringing the community in closer contact with its neighbors.
Additionally, a great deal of work is needed for the community itself. This might include tending gardens and/or livestock; building houses and other structures; managing energy, water, and waste; cooking; maintaining and repairing buildings and equipment; managing community finances, taxes, and the like; maintaining community institutions, like a community website or a community-hosted ecovillage group; health care; administrating the work system; and so on. We have developed a carefully-balanced work requirements policy that quantifies work based on a responsibility point system, such that community members have specific responsibilities to meet on their own schedules rather than a clock to punch. A copy of the work requirement policy is available online here.
Members who work for community businesses and on community tasks will fulfill their work requirement in responsibility points earned, not based on earning a given amount of money. However, members who work beyond their work requirements in either area will probably have at least a limited opportunity to earn money from that work, paid to them directly from the community, with no special restrictions on the use of that income.
A modest additional chore requirement is part of the overall work requirement and is designed to involve all community members in regular cleaning and upkeep tasks, rather than relying on a few individuals to do all of this kind of work. All adult members and older children have a chore requirement.
One premise of the community that is that most or all members will work entirely within the community or its businesses. We aren't trying to form the kind of community where everyone must fend for him- or herself and find a job in the area, and are actively developing community businesses to ensure that there is enough work to bring in the cash necessary to run the community and provide for our needs.
In certain limited circumstances, some community members might work within or outside the community on their own endeavors. This kind of arrangement to some extent runs contrary to the intent of the community; however, we recognize that in some cases an outside job or private business has an important meaning to the person who performs it, and/or an important value to the larger community. In these cases, with community agreement, an individual may substitute some or all earnings from the outside job or private business for a portion of his or her work requirement.
Since this kind of arrangement cannot replace the entire work requirement-that is, since we require a minimum level of work within the community-an individual working outside the community typically might have a heavy work schedule (full-time outside job plus smaller in-community work requirement plus small chore requirement), but will regularly be earning significant money for his or her own use.
Keep in mind that the practice of substituting some outside income for some of the work requirement is an unusual exception to our practice. Both the basic policy and the fact that the whole work requirement cannot be replaced by an outside job or private business are based on the idea that a community that is as integral as Meadowdance involves people working together every day to form the sense and strength of a village rather than the more limited connections available in a commuting lifestyle. This kind of exception also is based on the importance of the work to the individual or to others, not on income. For example, the community would be unlikely to support an exception for someone to commute to a job just because the job was lucrative, even if it meant significant cash income for Meadowdance.
By this policy we are only expressing our own goals and values in this area. We are not implying that working outside a community isn't a perfectly valid way to live one's life, only that it is not our choice of a lifestyle.
No: there is no investment requirement. However, part of the membership process is a financial evaluation that tells the community whether or not it can afford to take on a particular person or group as a permanent member (subject to successful completion of the membership process). Naturally this question is greatly simplified if a person can lend money to the community, but there will certainly be members who cannot lend and this is something we actively support; we have taken on prospective members in the past who were not able to lend.
Member loans are secured as a loan to the community entity, a Limited Liability Partnership (LLP), which owns equipment, land, buildings, and businesses. With this approach, a lender can have some assurance that s/he will be able to get money back in some way should s/he ever leave the community or need the money, although there are limitations on the timing and manner of "cashing out". By offering this opportunity for members to have some security for their community loan, we have sufficient loans from those members who can, to cover the necessities for members who can't lend without placing any member in undo financial danger. A community member who lends money does not have any more influence over community decisions, even those directly affecting that loan, than a non-lending community member.
Neither of the two common models for intentional communities have quite this advantage. Income sharing communities generally end up discouraging individuals with a substantial amounts to invest, because the investment is normally not refundable or optional. Non-income-sharing communities generally require individual investment from each family and are not affordable for people with few assets and/or low earning potential. Our hybrid model together with a flexible lending system, although it has its limitations, has for us solved the initial investment problem.
The community as a whole owns all land and buildings, including homes. However, a person's home will, within certain bounds, be theirs to occupy for as long as they desire once they move into it, providing there is no conflict with the continuation of that arrangement. By a conflict, we mean consensus agreement that there is a compelling reason that the situation must change. We do not anticipate having the need to make people change housing involuntarily.
This means that individuals and families do not each have to come up with money to buy land and build a house. It also means that the community can easily offer a variety of housing arrangements, such as shared cooperative houses, duplex or triplex housing, apartments (although not "apartment buildings"), and perhaps other options.
In addition to houses, there are community common spaces, including a community dining room where meals are available every day. Many members will have their own kitchens as well, to use when they desire as an alternative to the community kitchen. The community will also have other community spaces as needed, for instance space for businesses, arts, carpentry and auto shops, the community library, etc.
Most of the land will be kept in a wild state; housing and other buildings will tend to be clustered to minimize impact on the environment, to keep costs reasonable, and to facilitate a feeling of community.
Meadowdance Community Group is a Limited Liability Partnership (LLP). The decision to take this form was based on extensive discussion with lawyers and accountants in light of our community goals and values. An LLP allows us to own the community cooperatively while limiting the prerogatives of ownership to remain within community agreements. It prevents a community legal battle from encroaching on members' private funds, and otherwise meets our requirements. Full members of the community are partners in the LLP.
The community may at some point develop a non-profit organization that covers some of our not-for-profit activities, but we haven't yet found that to be necessary or useful.
The membership process is geared toward helping both the community and the individual or group applying for membership to understand each other, as fully as possible. From starting as a provisional member to becoming a permanent Full Member takes thirteen months of community residence, plus whatever time the individual or family takes to initially explore the community without yet applying for membership. All community members, including the original founders, go through this process of trial membership and consensus discussion of each new membership stage.
Most membership benefits (food, housing, etc.) kick in immediately on being accepted as a "Seeker" (a visitor who is investigating membership by a trial stay at Meadowdance). A few longer-term benefits (e.g. health insurance and covering health care costs) kick in once the person or family is accepted as an "Interim Member", i.e. after the one-month Seekership, if consensus is reached on continuing. All earlier membership levels have the same rights in our consensus process as Full Members, except that only Full Members may block a consensus decision. As of this writing, several years after beginning to use consensus, we have yet to see any consensus decision blocked by anyone, so this limitation turns out to be not very limiting.
Membership in the community involves explicit acceptance of all community agreements, consensus agreement among current community members on admission of the new member to each new membership stage, a financial and pragmatic review to ensure that it is possible to take on the new member at a given time, a clearness committee that discusses the member's feelings and concerns about membership, and signing legal documents to become part of the partnership. The successful culmination of a membership process is admission as a Full Member, with the celebration that step deserves.
Members who violate community agreements can be expelled by consensus agreement of the rest of the community. A provisional membership can be cut short if it's clear that it isn't working out, again by consensus.
The stages of membership are
|Interim Member||Three months|
|Transitional Member||Nine months|
We consider membership to be a serious commitment, and feel that a thoughtful and well-planned membership process prevents many potential problems from ever occurring. Our current membership process is available online here.
The first step in considering membership is to visit, and from there the process is one of gradual commitment as the individual gets to know the rest of the community and vice-versa.
When inquiring about a visit, please keep in mind that we have a heavy work schedule and that this is our home, so first please do not ask to visit at this time unless you feel strongly interested in considering membership; also, please understand our limitations (for instance, work commitments) when we do have visitors.
Pets are a challenging issue at Meadowdance. As a group, we're conscious of how important the relationship is between many people and their pets, and we do our best to be supportive of that. However, one outgrowth of living in community, especially in our current early phase where we're sharing one large house, is that individuals' home environments affect a lot of other people. For example, a dog that barks a lot or chews on furniture or jumps up on people might be a non-issue for some members and a serious problem for others, for instance members who might be allergic to dogs or who might have a child who's frightened by such an animal or who are unhappy to see toys, furniture, and other things destroyed.
Other issues arise with some kinds of pets--even having a gerbil raises the question of confining animals in an environment that is not very similar to their natural habitat.
So in striking the best balance we can manage between these two priorities (supporting people who have or want pets on the one hand and supporting people for whom pets are problematic on the other hand, remembering that the same people may be on both ends of the issue!), we early on adopted the practice of considering pets for membership along with their human families. So at each stage where membership is considered, the question of whether or not the pet can and should live at Meadowdance is also considered. Consensus is required for a pet to stay at Meadowdance, and the question comes up several times, as we get to know the pet better.
New pets for existing members are also considered in consensus discussion.
Because of this, it's important to know that we can't guarantee anyone who pursues membership in Meadowdance that their pet or pets will be able to come with them to stay. Members with multiple roaming pets are particularly affected by this, because it's problematic (not impossible, but problematic) for one family to keep several roaming pets when another family has been waiting to get just one.
But at the same time we, as one Meadowdancer puts it, "try for yes" on decisions about accepting pets to Meadowdance, because we understand the love and joy that can often come from relationships between humans and pets.
The ages of our group range from 6 months to mid 30s. We're very much in favor of members of all ages and varieties, but currently do not have much room for new people.
The group currently living at Meadowdance is one couple with two young boys, and one single mom with 3 slightly older boys.
Despite the mix of talents and skills at Meadowdance, it's important to know that what skills a person possesses are explicitly not a part of the membership evaluation process. Our feeling is that a person who is willing and able to do work around the community can learn a set of useful skills if necessary. We consider the motivation and cooperative spirit that go into working at Meadowdance to be more valuable than existing skills.
Just as important as sharing goals and values is a having a group of people who enjoy each other's company and feel enthusiastic about living and working together-although we often find that these two go hand in hand. Certainly they have for us.
This FAQ is maintained by Ken Walden, and is the product of a number of participants' discussion and work. We welcome questions from anyone interested in the community or its ideas, and any member of our group can submit proposed changes and additions.