BELLEVUE, Iowa - When Christine Baker buys holiday lights, it's not by the box, but by the truck full.
Baker has been decorating Mont Rest, a bed and breakfast located on the hill overlooking the Mississippi River in Bellevue, since it opened in 1987.
The facility has been brightly lit from top to bottom and inside and out during the last 24 holiday seasons. Mont Rest burned on Christmas Eve in 1996, so in 1997 after it was rebuilt, there were few lights, but Baker came back strong the next year.
"I have no idea how many lights there are. There are thousands," she said. "At the end of the Christmas season, I buy up the lights by the truck full. One year, I had four carts full of lights. They break easily so they have to be replaced most every year."
This year, Baker is trying something new: LED lights.
"I want to try about 300 of them. I'm kind of excited about the LEDs. With the thousands of lights I have, I can walk past the electric meter and hear it running," she said with a laugh.
In addition to the twinkling lights, there are decorated Christmas trees in the 12 bedrooms, plus the four cabins, and other trees set up throughout the historic mansion that dates back to 1893 and is referred to locally as "the castle" because of its third-story widow's tower reached by a winding staircase.
Each tree is decorated in a theme.
This year, there is a purple and green Mardi Gras tree, a toyland tree with jewel tones and a gold and white angel tree. One tree is white with all red decorations. There's also an old-time life-sized Santa. Victorian garland snakes up the stairwell as you enter Mont Rest. Even the antique dollhouse has small Christmas trees inside.
"It's our own festival of trees," Baker said. "It takes us weeks to put up."
Baker and her team don't mind the time to make the changeover to the holidays.
"I love Christmas. And I love sharing Christmas," she said. "The joy of Christmas is just enjoying the beauty of twinkling lights. You just need to relax and see the twinkling and the pretty little shiny baubles."
Baker said on a cold clear night, she likes to walk up the front stairs and look out across the roof of the inn to see the lights.
"Even on the night of the fire on Christmas Eve, I was grateful no one was hurt. But they let me go through the house and I thought of the Star of Bethlehem. I was looking for beauty in the devastation and I just looked up and saw the stars. The stars shine down on us from heaven. It's a joy and I have been so blessed. I like to share it with everyone."
As part of the renovations after the fire, she had a domed skylight installed above the central stairway.