Great write up Steve. Well thought out and presented. I'm adding this to my list of things to try.
"I must say as to what I have seen of Texas it is the garden spot of the world. The best land and the best prospects for health I ever saw, and I do believe it is a fortune to any man to come here." Davy Crockett, 1836
I always proof my yeast. Like you said Steve, you know right away if it is viable. I pur my dough in the oven with the light on for the rising. The bulb is a 40 watt appliance one and gives off just enough heat to help the dough rise. I don't know why, but I have never had very much luck with the rapid rise yeast. The dough just doesn't rise enough.
Illegitimi non carborundum!
I don't want my last words to be, "I wish I had spent more time doing housework"