Are you free for dinner?

Lisa B. Nelson and I shared a big idea: we would invite 10 people to dinner via my ibmadison.com blog After Hours. We would host monthly meals in different parts of town at different moderately priced restaurants. To be a sustainable event, guests would pay for their own meal, drink, and tip, but we'd do the back-and-forth scheduling to pull it off.

The caveat, of course, is that guests wouldn't know who else would be around the table until showtime. And all guests would be asked to prepare one lie and two truths to share about themselves. (The larger group then would have to figure out which of the three statements were true, which was a lie.)

We'd fill the table with interesting people like my co-host, Lisa, who spent many years on the Monona City Council and also doing campaign work for a few key area politicians. Today, she is the government relations person (lobbyist) for Wal-Mart; she works to site new stores in three states, and helps direct the money Wal-Mart donates back to communities. She's been in the National Guard for more than 20 years, she plays in the Army band, and she's a mother of four.

In other words, she's involved.

We chose Monona Garden for the premier event. The invitee list included Nino Amato, head of the Coalition of Wisconsin Aging Groups; State Sen. Glenn Grothman (R-20th District), who insists he'd be labeled "moderate" anywhere except Madison; Kathy Thomas, who has invested 30-plus years in Monona politics; and Nathan Brinkman, owner of Triumph Wealth Management and a 2010 IB 40 Under 40 pick.

We also invited Jenna Webber, a young entrepreneur (Start Point Marketing) with another full-time job who is (on the side) developing downtown incubator space, and Mary Whalen (remember when her hubby owned the Wonder Bar?). Mary has spent years with Mardi O'Brien Real Estate.

Also attending were Wendy Hansen, COO of Community Title; Tim Cooley, Madison's very recent economic development director; Donna Beesteman, owner, Career Success Strategies; and also Albanian immigrant Nick Semovski (now a U.S. citizen and restaurateur).

I added one more to the 10; my ringer, IB's editorial director, Joseph Vanden Plas.

From 6-9 p.m., we solved many of our state's challenges. The group redefined degree programs and educational outcomes, balanced municipal and the state budgets, and addressed collective bargaining and entitlement benefits.

Then we ordered coffee.

Here are some of the nuggets we heard that night while playing "Two Truths and A Lie": Wendy Hansen once country line danced with Reba McEntire; Mary Whalen went to the (1953) Badger Rose Bowl game; and Tim Cooley thinks Madison City Council meetings are fun. Can you guess the one lie?

Okay, that was too easy. We also found out that Tim Cooley busted through a Secret Service line (as a boy) to meet JFK, and the two of them spent 20 minutes together talking afterwards. Now that's true!

Did I go shoe shopping with Robert Kennedy Jr. or have lunch with James Carville in Washington, D.C., or do I have a rescue dog trained for the Baraboo circus? Two are true.

Fun and games and a balanced budget – and we'll be solving state issues again next month. Different venue, different guests, but hopefully the same fun. [Personally, I'd like to see a Democrat senator step up for the next one, because we have a great mix of young and old (voters) and it's fun to mix politics and a second cup of coffee.] What say you?

Lisa summed it up best for the group: "We all get trapped sometimes inside our circle of business acquaintances, and it's healthy and great fun to step outside, or to share our circle with others. The purpose of the meal is to grow. To widen your circle."

I would add that it's also to embrace an adventure and to seize the day (or night)!

If you'd like an invitation to an upcoming "Dinner with Lisa and Jody" event, e-mail jodyp@magnapubs.com. We're taking names and we'd like to add yours!

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