An appointment at the White House (with the President and First Lady, no less) is an elegant affair at this time of year. A Marine in dress blues stands watch outside the West Wing, carolers serenade visitors to the festively decked-out State Floor. But then you glimpse the realities of everyday life in this cramped workplace doubling as a family home. And frankly-to borrow the parlance of our new friend on the cover-it can leave you gobsmacked: Turkeys for the evening's congressional reception roasted in portable ovens in the driveway; huge canvas drop cloths were laid to protect antique carpets; and the President told us the technologically antiquated second-floor private residence only recently got a DVR. "We're a little bit behind," he said drily.

And so our Dec. 5 visit to the White House struck me as an apt coda to the year of extremes that was 2011. Occupy Wall Street threw open to scrutiny the wealth of the country's richest 1 percent, while the Kardashians flaunted how much the 1-percenters can spend. We pulled together for the hundreds of thousands devastated by natural disasters as far away as Japan; and then again to cheer the radiant Will and Kate at Westminster Abbey.

Through all the ups and downs of the year, America's military and their families continue, selflessly, to serve and to sacrifice. Of all the stories on our pages this year, Sgt. 1st Class Kristoffer Domeij's fourteen deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan by age 29 and his death by roadside bomb in October (p. 153) is one that sticks-and inspires. Here's to the heroes and a New Year filled with hope and happiness.

LARRY HACKETT, MANAGING EDITOR