Q. We live on a fairly large acreage which, when we bought it, needed a lot of work to make it livable. We spend a great deal of time outdoors, as you might expect. We thought our friends, family and regular business associates would expect it, too, at least in good weather.

But here's what happens. We hear the phone and make a dash for the house. It rings four times and then stops. Later the same person calls and may ask, "Were you out earlier?"

"Yes," I say, "out in the shed. We heard the phone but couldn't get to it. Next time, let it ring longer, please."

"Oh," they say with innocent surprise, "don't you have a portable phone?"

It's not as if I'm reading by the pool, which is when I think portable phones should be used. When we're outdoors, we're working. We have our hands full.

I think anyone who has time to call me has time to let the phone ring reasonably long. Why do they expect me to lug a phone around? I don't think answering machines are mandatory, either.

A. As a matter of fact, being available for telephone calls all the time -- or ever, for that matter -- is not mandatory.

But Miss Manners seems to be the only person who knows that.

The indignant complaint that you were not waiting at the telephone when the complainer chose to call you must be politely resisted.

As you have been kind enough to explain that you would, indeed, answer the telephone if only it rang long enough, Miss Manners believes you are meeting your callers more than halfway. If you feel falsely shamed into accommodating them even more, you might reflect on how Miss Manners would handle it:

The telephone would ring however few or many times the caller cared to make it. Miss Manners would be happily oblivious, because it would be indoors, out of earshot.

When caught later and asked if she had been out earlier, she would reply "Yes," cheerfully and honestly, before beginning general conversation on a topic other than why she was not available earlier. Feeling incorrect? Address your etiquette questions (in black or blue-black ink on white writing paper) to Miss Manners, in care of this newspaper.