Topping Out: A Healing Vision Becomes Reality

Topping Out: A Healing Vision Becomes Reality

Published on Saturday, February 16, 2013.
Meb Boden House

We had a long awaited “topping out” ceremony recently - that means attaching a young pine tree to the peak of the roof - a builders’ tradition performed after the final rafters are raised. Our 6-year-old grandson and a friend used a small bow saw the way that lumberjacks use those huge two-man saws - pushing back and forth, back and forth - to cut down a 3-foot-tall, spindly pine.

My husband, Tom, carried the tree up the scaffolding to the peak of the timber frame and nailed it to the south side facing into the winter sun. This is the heart of his design — the heat storage area where all the rocks we’ve set aside will someday form heating ducts, a terraced indoor garden and a large fireplace - encased in the heavy timbers we’ve milled from our own oak trees.

Folks say the ceremony brings luck to the home.

It’s been a long struggle, getting this far into our dream of creating a home. Five years ago, Tom had just finished chemo and radiation following colon cancer surgery. He had hollow cheeks, sunken eyes, and bony shoulders after fighting a near-deadly infection.

Nonetheless, he came with me to exhibit in a new-for-us craft show in Charlotte, North Carolina. We’d just received grants and a no-interest loan (our last payment is this September - hooray!) from CERF+ (Craft Emergency Relief Fund) — which helped us to afford the 1,700-mile trip and to pay workshop helpers who’d taken over Tom’s part of our woodworking business. And the American Craft Council (ACC) donated our booth space as part of CERF’s program to help artists in trouble.

Our hotel was on the 11th story with floor-to-ceiling windows facing downtown’s inspiring cityscape. We dragged the long desk in front of the windows and Tom spent the days drawing while I sold our work at the craft show. Each night Tom showed me his designs for a home using our natural resources for energy storage and efficient waste disposal.

It was hard to look at my gaunt partner and picture us getting old together in any home, especially one we built ourselves. But his persistent enthusiasm brought the dream alive, and I alternatively believed and pretended to believe this wasn’t just a fantasy.

He designed and researched through the winter, and that spring, we chain-sawed a wide opening to the sun across the driveway from our tiny, off-the-grid cabin in the woods.

For the past four years, we’ve worked on the house when the weather is fair and in the workshop on stormy days. In between, we go to craft shows to escape and take a hot shower.

Now, with Tom’s recovery as good as it’ll get - he’ll likely always have some bad days - a few friends still help out periodically in the workshop; others give time and resources or lend equipment and expertise to the house project.

Tom feels that his dream of building an earth-friendly house saved his life. By forcing himself to be overly busy, he has no time to dwell on the disease. “If you imagine the House, the House, the House - instead of the Cancer, the Cancer, the Cancer - the House is bound to place first in your dreaming,” he says. “It’s not a foolproof method, but it’s the best I had to work with.”

We still have a lot of work left - what an understatement! But each step brings us closer to our goal. Today, we both can attest to the huge power of beginning, then following through to reach our dreams!

Tom Vaiciulis and Meb Boden work together to create functional, highly polished utensils, vessels, and boards of local hardwoods. With continued gratitude to CERF+ and the ACC, this year they’ll exhibit at the upcoming Council’s shows in Baltimore (booth 3405) and Atlanta (booth 512). To see more of their work, go to They can be reached at [email protected].

Read more posts in our From the Studio series.