December 25, 2006 12:00 PM

It’s funny what goes through your head when you’re waiting to talk to the President. Visiting the First Couple in the White House is a holiday tradition at PEOPLE, but this was my first interview with George and Laura Bush, and as I sat in their private living room waiting for the President to wrap up a meeting in the West Wing, I found myself wondering if he’d notice my socks were mismatched (that’s what packing at the last minute gets you).

He didn’t seem to—but I couldn’t help but notice how well-matched the Bushes are. Their mood was serious and restrained, and our interview covered what a tough year it was for them—the Democrats’ sweep of the House and Senate, the escalating criticism of the war in Iraq. Clearly, the events of the year weighed heavily on the President, but when it came time to join his wife for photos, he brightened up. “You’ve got beautiful blue eyes,” he told her with a smile, as photographer Robert Trachtenberg asked them to look at each other.

Another compatible couple—Brad and Angelina, maybe you’ve heard of them?—come across like any other parents with young kids in our interview with Angelina Jolie, also in this issue. Jolie—who this May gave birth to Shiloh Nouvel, her first child with Brad Pitt and the third member of their brood, along with adopted kids Maddox, 5, and Zahara, nearly 2—talked with correspondent Mary Green about being a typically worrisome mom (“My wish each day is that everybody stays healthy”) and the couple’s child-rearing philosophy (“Be open to the individual they each uniquely are and let that guide you”). Says Green: “She couldn’t help laughing when she talked about the kids. You could just hear the joy in her voice.”

Then there are Ty Ziegel and Renee Kline, another remarkable couple we celebrated this year (PEOPLE, Nov. 13). Ziegel is a Marine wounded in Iraq; Kline was his loving fiancée, who saw him through a brutal rehab and helped him prepare for their emotional October wedding. Our story about them—and about heroes like Joann Ferrara (PEOPLE, Oct. 30), a physical therapist who runs a ballet program for girls with disabilities, and Tyrone Flowers (PEOPLE, Oct. 16), who lost the use of his legs in a high school fight years ago and now mentors at-risk boys—shows people at their best and, I believe, PEOPLE at its best.

Here’s hoping the new year ahead holds many more heartwarming stories like these—and that I get some matching socks for the holidays.