Before posting my ongoing frustration, I decided to grab a fast 20 minute "power nap" that extended itself into 75 minutes. Within less than 15 seconds after emerging into consciousness and totally unplanned for, I had one of those moments of clarity that resolved my question. I've been using a half sheet pan in the oven on the rack underneath the baking stone. Not only was it blocking heat getting to the baking stone during preheating but when I threw 5 or 6 ice cubes on the tray, the action added insult to injury for the bread. At least it looks like that was what was happening.
Two solutions have come to mind. First, not bother with steam at all since the oven door has some venting which probably limits any contributions from attempts at steam. This seems to be the easiest approach to confirm whether or not I was the primary problem cause. The second solution is to put the half sheet pan on the oven floor where it won't divert any heat from the baking stone. That's an easy approach as well. I'll be starting a new loaf tomorrow where I'll bake without steam to see if I'm on the right track.
The wine red tips of the peony plantings emergence are showing up over the entire yard. The high temperature forecast for Tuesday is 70F, quite warm for the beginning of March, so more signs of Spring are on the way. I may even get the opportunity to wash my car in the driveway on Tuesday. The bamboo plants at Rob's house across the river are already leafed out. No migratory birds have shown up in the yard as of yet and the juncos, our winter guests, are feeding heavily. The most recently identified bird is the northern flicker, which is a type of woodpecker that is a year round resident in the area. This afternoon, I saw a couple of bald eagles flying over the fields just east of the bridge over the Missouri River. They're usually just passing through the area as they follow the river according to the seasons. A few reside year round at the Federal flood control reservoirs here on the eastern side of Kansas.
Comments, humor, and questions are welcome.